On a summer night in June 2015, self-proclaimed white supremacist Dylann Roof allegedly walked into an historically African-American church in Charleston, South Carolina, during a bible study and opened fire, killing nine people in the process. Roof already had a criminal record, having been arrested on felony drug charges a few months before the shooting, though he was still able to buy the .45-caliber Glock hand gun he used to carry out the massacre. The FBI later revealed his purchase was the result of a jailhouse gaffe during his previous arrest. After the atrocious, racially motivated slaughter, Roof was arrested and led away surrounded by police while draped in a bullet-proof vest for his safety and protection. Prosecutors in his capital murder case recently filed papers in court known as a “mercy instruction” motion that would prohibit Roof’s defense attorneys from instructing the jury before deliberating that they are not ever required to recommend the death penalty. This is likely in response to the motion filed by Roof’s lawyers last month that stated the “death penalty and federal death penalty law are unconstitutional.”
The shooting, which Roof has proudly admitted to, was allegedly part of a much larger plan to incite a race war in the country, which he hoped to take credit for. In the days following the shooting, friends of Roof revealed his plan had been in the works for some time because he was appalled by how he believed whites are treated in this country. Investigators also discovered a manifesto Roof had published online that was nearly 2,500 words long. In it, he wrote about his hate for essentially anyone he didn’t consider ‘white.’ He claimed to be disgusted by Jews, blacks and Latinos, as well as the American flag. He said, in part, he believed the flag represents “people pretending like they have something to be proud [of] while white people are being murdered daily in the streets.” I find it disturbing this type of published hate speech wasn’t found sooner, especially considering Roof had priors and was likely vocal about his white supremacist stance when previously detained. In total, Roof has been charged with over 40 state and federal crimes, 33 of which are hate crimes.
Roof’s defense attorneys have promised a plea of guilty for a sentence of life in prison if the possibility of the death penalty is taken off the table, though prosecutors remain resolute. Should the trial reach the sentencing phase, the prosecution argues their burden to convince the jury to vote unanimously for death becomes much greater, whereas the defense only needs to convince one juror there exists enough mitigating evidence to impose a lesser sentence; in this case, life in prison without the possibility of parole. The prosecution has relented somewhat in agreeing that mercy should only be considered as the jury discusses mitigating versus aggravating circumstances of the case writing, “It is within that context, and that context alone, that mercy may enter into the death penalty process.”
As it stands today, over 3,000 potential jurors have been summonsed to serve on Roof’s case. Each potential juror will be asked if chosen, would they would be able to render a sentence of death. Roof is facing the death penalty in both his state and federal trials. His state trial is set to begin January 2017 after his federal trial concludes.
Whether you believe in the death penalty or not, this case is a sad reminder of the seemingly hopeless divide between citizens of this nation. Something’s gotta give. Dylann Roof’s actions are inexcusable and could have been, in my opinion, prevented if more people had been doing their job and paying attention. When people can’t even find solace in the sanctity of a church, what’s left?