Racial hatred drove white supremacist Dylann Roof to kill nine people at a black church in Charleston, South Carolina, after months of meticulous planning, a federal prosecutor argued on Thursday, asking jurors to hold the accused gunman accountable.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Nathan Williams’ voice rose as he criticized the young man’s self-proclaimed bravery in carrying out the attack during Bible study at the historic Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church on June 17, 2015.
“There is no bravery in this defendant. There is no bravery in his actions,” Williams told jurors in his closing argument at Roof’s federal trial.
Roof’s “actions show the cowardice that he had on that day,” the prosecutor added. “You can see what kind of hatred he had: a vast hatred that was cold and calculated.”
Williams said the government had proved the defendant’s guilt “beyond any doubt, much less reasonable doubt.”
“He must be held accountable for each and every action he took inside that church,” Williams said. “For every life he took.”
Jurors, who listened to six days of testimony that included watching Roof’s two-hour videotaped confession to investigators, were expected to begin deliberating later on Thursday. They will weigh the 22-year-old’s guilt on 33 charges of federal hate crimes resulting in death, obstruction of religion and firearms violations.
Roof also is due to stand trial next year on state murder charges.
Defense lawyer David Bruck conceded the horror of the massacre but suggested Roof’s hatred was “just an imitation” of white supremacist website content that had an outsized effect on an impressionable young man.
The attorney told jurors more explanation was needed to understand what pushed Roof to act in the way he did.
“What convinced him that he was in a war that required him to kill not just other people but himself?” Bruck said, alluding to testimony that Roof had planned to commit suicide following the church shooting.
Bruck’s closing argument could be the last time Roof’s lawyers address jurors. Roof has indicated he wants to serve as his own lawyer during the penalty phase of his trial, where prosecutors plan to pursue a death sentence should he be convicted.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Jay Richardson told jurors not to be distracted by the defense’s argument about Roof’s state of mind, noting his demeanor in the taped confession showed that he was eager to tell his story.
“You see a calm, confident, callous man who showed no sign that mental illness had anything to do with it,” Richardson said.
(Reporting by Greg Lacour; Writing by Colleen Jenkins; Editing by Toni Reinhold and Jonathan Oatis)