South Carolina jury to deliberate church shooter's fate next week

Reuters News
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Posted: Jan 06, 2017 6:42 PM

By Harriet McLeod

CHARLESTON, S.C. (Reuters) - Jurors could begin deliberating on Tuesday whether white supremacist Dylann Roof should be sentenced to death or life in prison for killing nine black people at a historic church in Charleston, South Carolina, a federal judge said on Friday.

The same jury that found Roof, 22, guilty last month of 33 federal charges including hate crimes heard a third day of raw testimony from the survivors of victims in the June 2015 massacre at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church.

"My heart is broken," said Malcolm Graham, brother of librarian Cynthia Hurd, who was among those killed after welcoming Roof to the evening Bible study meeting where he opened fire. "Cynthia was easygoing, my motivator, my example."

Family and friends attending the penalty phase of Roof's trial sobbed at the memories of victims including Ethel Lance, a matriarch whose family was left in "tattered pieces" by her death, daughter Sharon Risher said.

Susie Jackson, 87, the oldest victim, "had an unconditional love for everyone" despite living through decades of racial discrimination, grandson Walter "Bernie" Jackson Jr. testified.

Federal Bureau of Investigation Special Agent Joseph Hamski provided more insight into Roof's motivation to kill, outlining references he made to racist and white supremacist groups in writings jail officers found in his cell in August 2015.

Roof's comments appeared to be a continuation of the racist manifesto police found in his car when he was arrested the day after the shooting.

"I was unable to finish before because I was in a hurry to get to Charleston," Roof wrote from his cell, before stating his belief that Jews, Hispanics and Muslims posed a threat to white people.

"I did what I thought would make the biggest wave," Roof wrote, noting he had no remorse. "And now the fate of our race sits in the hands of my brothers who continue to live freely."

A few months before the shooting, Roof also posted his views on the white supremacist website Stormfront, Hamski said.

"I consider myself well-versed in racism," Roof wrote on the site, according to evidence displayed on a courtroom screen.

Some people he corresponded with there said they wanted to meet him, but the agent did not say if any meetings took place.

Roof is representing himself during the sentencing phase and does not plan to present any evidence in his defense. Testimony is expected to conclude on Monday.

(Writing by Colleen Jenkins; Editing by Tom Brown)