CHARLESTON, S.C. — As he promised, the 22-year-old man convicted of killing nine African-American parishioners at an evening Bible study offered no witnesses or evidence in defense of his racially charged 2015 attack.
“The defense rests,” Dylann Roof said Monday after prosecutors finished telling jurors why he should be put to death.
Their case included 25 witnesses in this sentencing phase. Most were family members of victims who died in the rampage.
Closing arguments are scheduled to begin Tuesday morning, and the jury likely will receive the case that afternoon. The panel of 10 women and two men, who last month found the self-admitted white supremacist guilty of 33 federal charges, will decide if he should be sentenced to life in prison or death by execution in the June 17, 2015, shootings at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church.
Should their deliberations end with a hung jury, in which one or more jurors vote for a life sentence, Roof automatically would be sentenced to life behind bars under federal capital trial rules. The case would not be retried.
But the judge is not required to inform jurors of that potential outcome, meaning the panel might assume a deadlock would result in a mistrial.
Monday afternoon, prosecutors argued before U.S. District Court Judge Richard Gergel that jurors do not need to know that a hung jury would result in a life sentence, saying that deliberations are fueled when a panel presumes it must think with one mind.
David Bruck, Roof's backup defense lawyer who was part of a team that Roof fired before sentencing began, tried to persuade Gergel to instruct the jurors of the consequences of a deadlock, a fact he said is known to everyone in the courtroom except the panel. A jurist who believes that life is the most appropriate punishment while other panelists vote for death might believe he or she has failed other jurors, victims, the community and the court without that accord, Bruck said.
“Mr. Bruck, let me tell you, I hear you. I need to think about it,” Gergel said.
Roof also weighed in briefly, asking Gergel, “Don’t they have a right to know?”
The debate over jury instructions came after prosecutors concluded witnesses in much the same way they began: with a mother’s grief.
Felicia Sanders, one of three people who survived Roof’s attack, last month served as the government’s first witness in the guilt phase of the trial, and in testimony that left courtroom observers in tears, described trying to hide under a folding table as Roof fired more than 70 bullets.
Beneath Sanders lay her 11-year-old granddaughter, and to one side, her 87-year-old aunt, Susie Jackson; and 26-year-old son, Tywanza Sanders.
The girl survived. Jackson and Tywanza Sanders did not.
Felicia Sanders, also the last witness in the sentencing, remembered her son as a vibrant and charismatic young man, one who helped her through a cancer diagnosis, served as a doting uncle and was a prolific wordsmith.
“He has enough poems and readings in here to keep me busy for the rest of my life,” the mother said of finding hundreds of pages in his bedroom.
In one card to his mother, he wrote, “I’m working to be all I can be without joining the Army,” adding, “I love you. Believe me one day; we are (going to) be on TV.”
“I just didn’t know we (were going to) be on TV like this,” Sanders told the jury.
But it was a call from a university in Florida, where Sanders had been accepted for a music production degree program just one month before the Mother Emanuel shootings, that prompted one of the most difficult days for the family. With his apartment paid for and classes under way, the school called to ask why Tywanza Sanders had not arrived.
“My husband said, ‘He died. He can’t come,’ ” she remembered, her voice cracking at the lost future. “He’s no longer with us.”
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