CHARLESTON, S.C. (AP) — Convicted Charleston church shooter Dylann Roof spoke to the jury for the first time at his death penalty trial Wednesday, telling them that there’s nothing wrong with him psychologically and that he is not trying to keep any secrets from them.
But perhaps most important is what he didn’t say: He didn’t ask jurors to spare his life or the death penalty. The jury last month unanimously found Roof guilty of hate crimes in the shooting deaths of nine black church members during Bible study. They will now decide whether he should be sentenced to death.
“My opening statement is going to seem a little bit out of place,” the soft-spoken 22-year-old white man said calmly as he stood in front of a podium, occasionally glancing at notes. “I am not going to lie to you. … Other than the fact that I trust people that I shouldn’t and the fact that I’m probably better at constantly embarrassing myself than anyone who’s ever existed, there’s nothing wrong with me psychologically.”
Roof’s attorneys have indicated that he chose to represent himself during the sentencing phase of his trial because he was worried they might prevent embarrassing evidence about himself or his family. They have not said what that evidence may be. Roof was found competent to represent himself during two different hearings, one as recently as within the last week.
Prosecutors said Roof deserved the death penalty because he painstakingly chose to target vulnerable people during Bible study at Emanuel AME Church in June 2015.
“This defendant’s horrific acts justify the death penalty,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Nathan Williams said. “He killed nine people. … He killed them because of the color of their skin. He killed them because they were less than people.”
Prosecutors plan to call up to 38 people related to the nine people killed and three who survived. Williams told jurors they would hear extensive testimony about the nine victims, including pastor and state Sen. Clementa Pinckney, a “prodigy of the ministry” who was a man of faith, service and family dedication.
“This will be heartbreaking,” Williams said.
The prosecutor also read a portion from a journal found in Roof’s jail cell six weeks after his arrest in which Roof said he had not wept for any of the victims.
“I remember how I felt when I did these things and how I knew I had to do something and then I realize it was worth it,” Roof wrote, as a handwritten page from his journal appeared on screens in the courtroom. “I would like to make it crystal clear. I do not regret what I did. I have not shed a tear for the innocent people I killed.”
Roof has said he doesn’t plan on calling any witnesses or introduce any evidence.