Home / National News / Accused Church Shooter Dylann Roof Showed 'Tremendous Hatred' and 'Must Be Held Accountable,' Prosecutor Says


(CHARLESTON, S.C.) —  Dylann Roof showed “tremendous cowardice” and “tremendous hatred” when he gunned down nine helpless worshippers at a Charleston, South Carolina, church in June 2015, the prosecution said Thursday in its closing arguments for Roof’s federal death penalty trial.

Roof, who is white, is accused of fatally shooting nine black parishioners during a Bible study at the predominantly black Emanuel AME Church on June 17, 2015. Roof, 22, allegedly entered the church armed and “with the intent of killing African-Americans engaged in the exercise of their religious beliefs,” according to the federal indictment against him.

The Prosecution

Assistant U.S. Attorney Nathan Williams began the prosecution’s closing arguments by describing church as a sanctuary, “a place safety, fellowship and welcoming.” Williams said hatred doesn’t have a place in such a venue.

But nonetheless, Roof felt hatred and targeted the church, Williams said. “It was a cold and calculated hatred that had been developing for months … that had been seeking out the most vulnerable people to target,” Williams said of Roof. “He sat there with them and he waited until they were at their most vulnerable.”

Williams continued: “When they stood to pray, when they had their eyes closed … in those actions we see exactly who this defendant is. … A man whose actions show him to be a man of tremendous cowardice, shooting them when their eyes were closed, shooting them when they were on the ground.”

Williams said that Roof believes black people are a problem for America and that he thinks society should go back to a time that was “one of the most dismal and shameful in this country’s history,” referring to slavery.

“[He believes] he color of a person’s skin makes them less than human,” said Williams.

Williams pointed to Roof’s manifesto, in which he said Roof identified himself as the one who had to act. “We’ve seen in these writings a racist retribution,” said Williams. “[Roof] literally wants there to be a race war.”

Next, Williams spoke about the steps Roof took to prepare for his deadly rampage. Roof worked to find “the most vulnerable people to attack,” Williams said, saying Roof made several trips to Charleston, scouting out the church. Roof considered a black festival, but ultimately decided against it because of the security, Williams said. So instead, he turned to a church, Williams said, and began stockpiling ammunition.

On June 17, Roof drove to the church, taking a route he’d practiced before, Williams said. The church he chose, Emanuel AME, was at the top of a list of possible targets, Williams said.

“That tells you the depth, the vastness of his hatred,” Williams said.

Williams then asked how someone could shoot a person on the ground. “The answer, in part, is because he thinks they’re less than human,” Williams said.

And the worst part of Roof’s hatred, Williams said, is that he carried out his attack in a church. Roof drove for 90 minutes to Charleston, then sat outside Emanuel AME for 28 minutes before going inside, Williams said. He was “planning and preparing for what he was about to do,” Williams said. Then he loaded his gun and went inside, Williams said.

For 40 minutes, Roof sat with his victims, “waiting for the chance to kill them,” before eventually opening fire, Williams said. “For every person he killed, he must be held accountable,” Williams said.

Williams then pointed out that each victim was shot repeatedly. “Shooting round after round after round shows … immense hatred,” Williams said. He commended the bravery of those who faced Roof as he fired, including victim Tywanza Sanders, who tried to draw Roof’s attention away from the other people in the church, Williams said.

During his video “confession,” Roof laughed over and over, Williams said.

“This defendant’s hatred was overwhelming,” Williams said.

But Roof’s nine victims triumphed over his hatred, Williams continued. “[Roof] thought it would spread his message of hate, but that message was stopped by their goodness. … He chose the wrong good people.”

He added: “That church was a sanctuary because these good people created a sanctuary. … And this defendant’s hatred has no place in that sanctuary.”

Williams concluded by asking the jury to find Roof guilty of every count.

The Defense

Attorney David Bruck spoke next, saying in the defense’s closing arguments that the answer is simple when it comes to the issue of what happened and who did it. It’s hatred, he said, according to local ABC affiliate WCIV.

But then he asked the jury to consider the why of this case and understand what was going on in Roof’s head, WCIV reported.

Bruck called Roof a boy “who gives his whole life over to a belief” that there is a fight between white and black people that’s being covered up by a conspiracy, according to WCIV.

He described the repeated trips to Charleston as “ritualistic.” “There was the belief this was a smart idea … because of hatred,” Bruck said, WCIV reported.

“He had no escape plan, no money, a car full of dirty stuff,” said Bruck, according to WCIV. “He looked like he’d been living in it.”

Bruck pointed to the fact that Roof told the FBI that he had saved his last magazine for himself, WCIV reported. Bruck noted that this indicates Roof wasn’t going to kill other people; instead, he had decided to kill himself, Bruck said, according to WCIV.

He appeared to have no friends, Bruck said, WCIV reported. “He didn’t get this from anyone else that he knew,” Bruck said. “… What we are left with is the evidence. Every bit of his motivation came from things he saw on the internet.”

Bruck described Roof as a lonely dropout reading things online in his room, WCIV reported. Bruck brought up the Trayvon Martin case, which Roof cited in his manifesto as what peaked his initial interest, according to WCIV.

Bruck said Roof then proceeded to find an explanation for every bad thing that had happened and placed the blame at the feet of black people, WCIV reported.

“[The prosecution says] Dylann Roof actually did some real thinking and these are his ideas,” Bruck said, according to WCIV. “But I think it’s much more likely that what you are seeing is repetition. He is simply regurgitating lines and paragraphs.”

Bruck said Roof never adequately answered why he carried out his deadly rampage, WCIV reported. “There was something in him that made him feel he had to do it, and that’s as close as they got to it,” Bruck said, according to WCIV.

Bruck pointed to Roof’s warped perception of reality, saying Roof appeared shocked to learn in his interview with the FBI he’d killed nine people, WCIV reported. “There is something wrong with his perception, Bruck said. “There is something wrong with how he is perceiving his actions.”

Bruck noted various peculiarities in Roof’s behavior, like that he was wearing sweats under jeans in the South Carolina heat, according to WCIV. Bruck said Roof had hundreds of pictures of his cat.

He then asked the jury to consider the senselessness of the crime and how illogical it was, WCIV reported. He told the jury to question whether there’s more to the story.

Bruck concluded by asking the jury to approach the case with the same wisdom and grace that survivor Polly Sheppard displayed when she took the stand.

The 33 federal counts against Roof include hate crimes resulting in death and obstruction of exercise of religion resulting in death. If convicted, Roof faces the death penalty.

Roof has pleaded not guilty.

He also faces a state trial, set for early next year, in which he may also face the death penalty.

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