Dylann Roof delivered his opening statement in a South Carolina courtroom Wednesday, as the penalty phase of his federal trial got underway. Roof, who was convicted last month of murdering nine black churchgoers, will be representing himself as jurors weigh whether to give him the death penalty or life in prison.
His remarks were brief, focused only on defending his decision to dismiss his lawyers for this phase of the trial.
He said it’s “absolutely true” that he chose to represent himself so that his lawyers would not present evidence of mental illness.
“The point is I’m not going to lie to you,” Roof said. “There’s nothing wrong with me psychologically.”
He did not address his crimes or the prosecution’s opening remarks against him.
U.S. District Judge Richard Gergel approved the 22-year-old white supremacist’s request to serve as his own counsel after a second hearing on his mental competency. The request for self-representation — and its approval — came over the protests of Roof’s own lawyers. Roof has said he will not call witnesses or experts to the stand during this phase of the trial.
Still, earlier this week, Gergel laid out strict rules for Roof’s conduct while acting as his own lawyer.
“In an order, the judge detailed how Roof can behave while in court,” Alexandra Olgin of South Carolina Public Radio reports. “He cannot approach witnesses, the jury or the bench and has to give opening statements from behind a podium.”
Roof killed nine parishioners at Charleston’s historically black Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church on June 17, 2015. In a confession taped shortly after he was taken into custody, Roof made plain his racial motivations, adding: “I am guilty. We all know I’m guilty.”
It took less than three hours last month for the jurors to concur. They found him guilty of charges ranging from murder and attempted murder to obstruction of religious belief and damage to religious property.
Federal prosecutors, who are pursuing the death penalty, delivered a much longer opening statement. Assistant U.S. Attorney Nathan Williams focused his remarks on those who died in the shooting, and on what he called Roof’s lack of regret.
Central to the latter argument is a journal that prosecutors say Roof wrote in after his arrest. In the journal, excerpts of which were presented to courtroom reporters, Roof allegedly says that “African-Americans have to pay for what they’ve done.”
“I created the biggest wave I could,” Roof allegedly wrote. “I did all I can do, now it is in the hands of my brothers.”
In concluding his remarks, Williams warned that the testimony to come will be worse than what jurors have heard yet: “It will be heartbreaking,” the prosecutor said.
The penalty phase of the trial resumed Wednesday with prosecutors calling their first witnesses. The prosecution plans to call up to 38 people as witnesses and experts during this phase of the trial, according to The Associated Press.
This is not the only trial that Roof is facing — and not the only possibility for capital punishment. “After the federal proceedings,” reports NPR’s Debbie Elliott, “Roof is scheduled to be in state court early next year on murder charges that also carry the possibility of a death sentence.”
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