So much for throwing himself on the mercy of the court. Dylann Roof, representing himself in the penalty phase of his trial for the racially motivated massacre of nine black parishioners at a Charleston, South Carolina church, refused to explain himself to jurors who have to choose between a life sentence and execution. As one might expect from someone who represents himself, Roof made a pretty good case for the latter. The New York Times reports on his “defense,” which seems almost designed to be offensive:
Standing before the jurors who will decide whether he is sentenced to death, Dylann S. Roof, the white supremacist found guilty of killing nine black parishioners during a racially motivated assault at this city’s Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church, declared on Wednesday that he was not mentally impaired. But in a strikingly brief opening statement, he offered no apology or explanation for the massacre.
“There’s nothing wrong with me psychologically,” Mr. Roof, who is representing himself during the penalty phase of his trial in Federal District Court, told the jury of 10 women and two men in remarks that lasted about three minutes. …
“The point is that I’m not going to lie to you, not by myself or through somebody else,” said Mr. Roof, who spoke from a lectern as several women left the courtroom, one of them muttering curses. Mr. Roof’s grandparents watched from the second row.
Roof’s unrepentant posture came just minutes after prosecutors read from his jailhouse writings seized not long after his arrest. In that journal, Roof made clear his lack of remorse, as well as the reality of his crime:
“I couldn’t go another day without doing something,” Mr. Roof wrote in a journal that the authorities seized from his jail cell in August 2015. “I couldn’t live with myself.”
He added: “I would like to make it crystal clear I do not regret what I did. I am not sorry. I have not shed a tear for the innocent people I killed.”
If he’s looking for a quick ticket to Death Row, Roof’s likely to get it. It sure does appear to be what Roof wants out of this exercise. He may not have repeated the statements out of his journal in open court, at least not yet, but he’s eliminated any mitigating circumstances against execution with these statements, such as diminished capacity or arguments that put his ability to form motive in doubt. Roof has already stated that he won’t call any witnesses on his behalf or testify, other than his statements in the role of defense counsel. That leaves only the prosecution to tell the story of the damage that Roof has done, and his calculated evil plan to kill as many black people as he could find — even while they prayed with him.
That might put the jury in a tough spot, oddly enough. If it’s clear that Roof wants execution, should they provide it to him? Or should they force him to live with the consequences of his sick and evil actions for decades to come? A death sentence is exceedingly rare in South Carolina in recent years, although the state still has 254 inmates on Death Row. There has not been an actual execution in well over five years, and only 19 since 2000. In that context, it might be easier for a jury to pass a death sentence and give Roof the worst of both worlds — an extended stay on Death Row, followed by an execution at some point, unless the practice is ended before Roof gets the needle.