Lawyers are set to give their closing arguments at white supremacist Dylann Roof’s federal hate crimes trial on Thursday after six days of chilling testimony about the shooting massacre at a historic black church in South Carolina last year.
For Roof’s defense team, it could be the last time they speak to jurors in Charleston. The 22-year-old has indicated he wants to serve as his own lawyer during the penalty phase of his trial, where prosecutors plan to seek a death sentence.
Roof confessed on video that he shot and killed nine parishioners during a Bible study at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church on June 17, 2015. One of the three survivors testified on Wednesday that he said he let her live to tell the story of what he had done.
Prosecutors said during opening statements last week that Roof felt compelled to kill innocent churchgoers as retribution for perceived offenses against his race. The crime shocked the nation.
The federal government built a methodical case against Roof, detailing his apparent scouting visits to Charleston ahead of the attack and his purchase of a gun and hundreds of rounds of ammunition.
Jurors also watched video Roof made of himself taking target practice with a laser sight mounted on a pistol in his mother’s backyard and reviewed his journal and online manifesto in which he railed against blacks and Jews and promoted his ideology of white superiority.
Roof’s lawyers rested their case on Wednesday without calling any witnesses. They were unable to convince the trial judge to allow them to present evidence of Roof’s state of mind during the guilt phase of the trial.
But defense attorney David Bruck in his opening statement asked jurors to consider what factors drove Roof to commit an act that made no sense.
(Additional reporting by Harriet McLeod, Writing by Colleen Jenkins; Editing by Alistair Bell)