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The latest news about the Dylann Roof murder trial in Charleston, SC.

Jury Finds Dylann Roof Guilty In S.C. Church Shooting

Dylann Roof is escorted from the Shelby Police Department in Shelby, N.C., on June 18, 2015.
Chuck Burton
Dylann Roof is escorted from the Shelby Police Department in Shelby, N.C., on June 18, 2015.

A jury in Charleston, S.C., has found Dylann Roof guilty on all 33 counts of federal hate crimes he faced for murdering nine people and attempting to kill three others in the basement of a historically black church.

As the sentence was read, Roof stood emotionless, reported Alexandra Olgin of South Carolina Public Radio, who was in the courtroom. The charges included murder, attempted murder, damage to religious property, obstruction of religious belief and weapons charges.

Federal prosecutors are seeking a death sentence. Roof has asked to represent himself in the penalty phase of the trial, which is scheduled to begin Jan. 3.

The guilt phase of the trial featured six days of testimony from 30 witnesses, including a recorded confession and excerpts from Roof's journal, and it painted a picture of a young man filled with racial hatred who spent months planning to murder black people.

Roof entered Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in downtown Charleston on the evening of June 17, 2015, and, for nearly an hour, sat among a dozen people at a Bible study before opening fire during the worshippers' final prayer.

One witness, Felicia Sanders, described hiding under a table and "cowering with her 11-year-old granddaughter who was with her, and she described feeling the blood of her mortally wounded son and aunt who were on either side of her," as NPR's Debbie Elliot reported.

Another witness, Polly Sheppard, told the jury Roof stood over her with his gun and asked her if she had been shot. When she said no, Roof told her: "I'm not going to. I'm going to leave you here to tell the story."

Roof, who was 21 at the time, was arrested the next day.

Less than 24 hours after the massacre, Roof gave a two-hour taped interview to FBI agents, part of which was played for the jury. In it, Roof said of Sheppard, "I didn't shoot her because she was, like, looking at me."

Sharon Risher, whose mother and two cousins were killed at Emanuel AME Church.
Win McNamee / Getty Images
Getty Images
Sharon Risher, whose mother and two cousins were killed at Emanuel AME Church.

He also said: "I am guilty. We all know I'm guilty."

Roof also explained at least some of his motives. He said he felt he "had to" commit the crime because "no one else was brave enough," and explained to the agents that he believed white people "already are the second-class citizens."

Roof said he had been inspired after he searched on Google for the phrase "black on white crime" in reaction to the killing of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin, who was black, by neighborhood watch volunteer George Zimmerman.

"That was it," Roof said.

Asked if he believed those he shot were bad people, Roof said almost incredulously, "They're in church; they weren't criminals or anything."

Roof's defense attorneys did not call any witnesses, and Roof said he did not want to testify. During closing arguments on Thursday, defense attorney David Bruck asked the jury to consider why Roof did what he did.

The Post and Courier newspaper reported on Bruck's closing argument:

" 'There is hatred all right, and certainly racism, but it goes a lot further than that,' [Bruck] said.

" 'Every bit of motivation came from things he saw on the internet. That's it. ... 'He is simply regurgitating, in whole paragraphs, slogans and facts — bits and pieces of facts that he downloaded from the internet directly into his brain.' "

Roof is facing separate murder charges brought by the state of South Carolina, which is also seeking the death penalty. That trial is scheduled to begin Jan. 17.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Rebecca Hersher (she/her) is a reporter on NPR's Science Desk, where she reports on outbreaks, natural disasters, and environmental and health research. Since coming to NPR in 2011, she has covered the Ebola outbreak in West Africa, embedded with the Afghan army after the American combat mission ended, and reported on floods and hurricanes in the U.S. She's also reported on research about puppies. Before her work on the Science Desk, she was a producer for NPR's Weekend All Things Considered in Los Angeles.