Dylann Roof has ‘cold and hateful heart,’ prosecutor says as trial begins

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Dylann Storm Roof

Dylann Roof was “cold and calculating” in planning an attack on Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church, a federal prosecutor said Wednesday in opening statements at Roof’s trial in Charleston, South Carolina.

Roof studied the church’s long history in the black community, found out what time a Bible study class would be held, loaded his gun the night before, packed extra ammunition and drove more than an hour to the church, Assistant US Attorney Jay Richardson told the jury of nine whites and three African-Americans.

He was welcomed into the Bible study and displayed a “cold and hateful heart” by sitting with the group more than 30 minutes, Richardson said.

As the 12 people stood to offer prayers and close their eyes, Roof opened fire with a Glock .45-caliber pistol, firing 70 rounds, Richardson said. Nine people were killed.

Tywanza Sanders, one of those killed, told Roof that he didn’t have to shoot them, saying “we mean you no harm,” the prosecutor said, recounting the story of one of the survivors. Roof, who is white, replied, “Y’all are raping our white women, y’all are taking over the world,” Richardson said.

After he was captured, authorities learned Roof had written a “manifesto” of his racist beliefs and posed for photos with the US flag burning in one hand and the Confederate flag in the other, Richardson said.

Roof also designed his own logo that included his initials, a swastika and the number 88, which for white supremacists stands for “Heil Hitler,” the prosecutor said. “He created the symbol to reflect who he was, what he thought and what he had done,” Richardson said.

Defense statement

Opening for the defense, attorney David Bruck told the jury, “you’re probably wondering why there has to be a trial.”

Authorities previously said Roof had confessed to the killings and told the FBI that he hoped to provoke a race war.

The practical reason for the trial, Bruck said, is that the government has asked for the death penalty.

Bruck said the jury will decide guilt or innocence in the first phase of the trial. In the second phase, the jury will decide on punishment.

Bruck reminded the jury of Roof’s youth and urged them to try to understand him. Roof told the FBI he didn’t have any friends, Bruck said.

Jurors should ask where Roof’s feelings of racial hatred came from, Bruck said.

“How much sense does this crime make, does it make any sense and if any at all, what does that tell you?” he asked.

Bruck ended by saying he probably would not call any witnesses.

Roof sat mostly motionless in his state-issued, gray-and-white striped jumpsuit throughout both opening statements, barely looking up from the defense table.

Jury seated

Earlier Wednesday, eight white women, two African-American women, one white man and one African-American man were seated on the jury, according to a pool report from the US District Court in Charleston.

Two white women, two white men, a black woman and a black man were picked as alternates, the pool report said.

All 18 panelists will listen to testimony and arguments without knowing whether they are jurors or alternates.

Roof was granted the right to represent himself during the questioning of potential jurors, but US District Judge Richard Gergel granted Roof’s motion on Monday to have attorneys assist him during the guilt phase of his trial. Roof has asked that he act for himself in any sentencing proceeding.

In another order Tuesday, the judge rejected the defense motion to restart the jury questioning. Gergel wrote that Roof actively participated in jury qualification questioning.

Last week, the judge deemed Roof was competent to stand trial.

Roof faces 33 federal charges: nine counts of violating the Hate Crime Act resulting in death; three counts of violating the Hate Crime Act involving an attempt to kill; nine counts of obstruction of exercise of religion resulting in death; three counts of obstruction of exercise of religion involving an attempt to kill and use of a dangerous weapon; and nine counts of use of a firearm to commit murder during and in relation to a crime of violence.

If convicted, he could face the death penalty.

Roof, 22, also faces nine counts of murder and other charges in the state court system. His trial in that case is scheduled to start in January.

Motion to delay denied

Roof had sought to have the trial delayed because of a mistrial in the prosecution of Michael Slager, another racially charged trial held in Charleston.

That mistrial — less than 48 hours before Roof’s trial was scheduled to begin — “is highly likely to create undue pressure on the jury to compensate for the judicial system’s apparent failure to punish Mr. Slager by imposing a harsher punishment here,” Roof’s attorneys said in a motion filed Tuesday.

But Gergel didn’t accept that argument.

“The notion that a prospective juror in this case would respond to a mistrial in a state court case involving a police officer’s alleged criminal activity by imposing greater than deserved punishment on a defendant who is alleged to have entered a church building during Wednesday night Bible study and committed completely unrelated crimes seems utterly farfetched and illogical to the court.”

Slager, who is white, shot and killed Walter Scott, 50, who is black, after an April 4, 2015, traffic stop. The shooting was captured on a bystander’s cell phone video, which showed Scott running away as Slager fired eight times, striking Scott three times in the back. The jury failed to reach a verdict after 22 hours of deliberation.