Charleston, SC- Speaking in public for the first time about the massacre of nine people at a South Carolina church, avowed white supremacist Dylann Roof tried to assure jurors on Wednesday that “there is nothing wrong with me psychologically.”
He said that was his motivation for mounting his own defense in the penalty phase of his trial.
“I chose to represent myself to prevent my lawyers from presenting mental health evaluation,” Roof, 22, told the federal jury that convicted him last month and now is considering whether to send him to death row. “That’s true, but it isn’t because I have a mental illness that I don’t want you to know about. It isn’t because I’m trying to keep a secret.”
Roof said his lawyers forced him to undergo competency hearings, which ended with a judge allowing the trial to proceed.
As he spoke in a voice barely audible in the federal courtroom in Charleston, the relative of one victim walked out of the courtroom and muttered, “Stupid.”
The opening statement was the first time Roof had commented while on trial for the June 17, 2015 massacre at Emanuel AME Church in Charleston. Roof confessed to the killings in a videotaped interview with federal agents, which was played at the guilt phase of his trial. Throughout those proceedings, Roof sat stone-faced and quiet.
Roof’s statement followed opening remarks from Assistant U.S. Attorney Nathan Williams, who argued that his killings of nine black people who’d invited him to study the Bible with them called out for the death penalty.
“The defendant didn’t stop after one person or two or four or five. He killed nine people,” Williams said. “And for that this case is worse. It is worse because of the reason he killed them, because of the color of their skin, because he thought they were less people.”
Williams said the government’s case for execution would focus on Roof’s racist motives, the impact of the killings, and his lack of remorse, apparent in his jailhouse writings.
Williams read aloud portions of a journal Roof kept after his arrest: “I do not regret what I did. I am not sorry,” and, “I have not shed a tear for the innocent people I killed.”
Williams also showed the jury pictures of each of the victims, whom he called “pillars of the community”: the Rev. Clementa Pinckney, 41; the Rev. Daniel Simmons, 74; Sharonda Coleman-Singleton, 45; Depayne Middleton-Doctor, 49; Cynthia Hurd, 54; Myra Thompson, 59; Ethel Lance, 70; Susie Jackson, 87; and Tywanza Sanders, 26.
Williams talked about how each of their deaths affected their loved ones.
Many of those relatives will testify at the trial, which is expected to last about 10 days.
“You will hear tears shed in this courtroom by the families of the good people this defendant killed,” Williams said. “And when you see tears, know that this defendant thinks it is worth it.”
The government first called Pinckney’s widow, Jennifer, who described their courtship, marriage and raising two daughters. The recollections were accompanied by photos, including some that showed him preaching at Emanuel and as a South Carolina state senator. Observers and jurors laughed at some of the funnier memories, and drew hushed at sadder ones.
Pinckney then described accompanying her husband to Emanuel on the day of the shooting. She was in a study with one of their daughters when she heard gunshots, including one that pierced a wall. Picnkney said her daughter asked, “Momma, is Daddy gonna die?”
Not long after, Pinckney heard Roof’s voice from the shooting scene.
“I’m not crazy,” Roof said, according to Pinckney. “I have to do this.”
Story provided by NBC News