By Barney Blakeney
It took only a few hours for the jury deliberating a sentence in the conviction of Dylann Roof for the massacre of nine victims at Emanuel AME church in 2015 to return with their decision – death.
It was a horrific crime that tore at the core of this conservative southern community. Roof, an avowed white supremacist, went into the historic black church on a mission to slaughter those within.
About an hour later he left nine bullet-riddled bodies behind in the church. And now 18 months later he’s been sentenced to pay for his brutality.
The sentencing phase of the Dylann Roof murder trial began last week. Roof, who without remorse confessed to the crime, was found guilty in November of all 33 federal charges against him and faced either a life sentence or the death penalty. The jury was charged with deciding whether Roof would indeed receive a death sentence or a sentence of life without the possibility of parole. The prosecutor asked the jury to return a sentence of death.
“Only the jurors know what they’re going to do,” said one local attorney though he was convinced the jury would return a death sentence. Roof’s decision to represent himself in the guilt and sentencing phases of his trial had legal minds and others guessing, but federal district court Judge Richard Gergel deftly covered the technical aspects of the trial to insure both fairness to Roof and a legally sound process, the attorney said. Gergel ordered separate mental competency evaluations during the guilt and sentencing phases of the trial in that effort, he said.
The conclusion of the sentencing phase of the trial offers some closure for those closest to the horror, but it doesn’t end the process. The attorney explained that a death sentence triggers an automatic appeals process. That process potentially could continue all the way up to the Supreme Court and easily could take eight-10 years before it is exhausted.
South Carolina Democratic Party Chairman Jaime Harrison issued this statement after the sentence was announced: “Today, after facing a jury of South Carolinians, the perpetrator of this horrific crime received the harshest penalty that our justice system imposes. Today’s sentence sends the clear message that racism, bigotry, and violence have absolutely no place in our society. With the sentencing phase complete, let us continue to comfort the families and friends of the 9 souls that were taken from us as well as those who survived the evil act. The attack on them was an attack on us all, and we must move forward in solidarity to overcome the demons we still face.”
Tyrone Sanders, whose 26-year-old son was the youngest of Roof’s victims, said he wants Roof to suffer and hopes that suffering includes a brutal death. A horrific death for Roof, one equal to that he gave his victims, would serve as a deterrent to other mass murderers and racists who don’t realize there only is one race of people – the human race, Sanders said.
“I’m not ready to forgive. I don’t think I’ll ever forgive,” said Sanders whose wife and granddaughter were survivors among Roof’s intended victims.