The sentencing hearing for convicted mass murdererDylann Roof got underway in Charleston, South Carolina on Wednesday, and Roof — as expected — is doing little to convince the jury to spare his life. Roof, 22, was convicted last month of the racially motivated murders of nine people at a historically black church in 2015.
Roof, who is acting as his own attorney, addressed the jury that will decide his fate after prosecutor Nathan Williams made an emotional plea to the court to sentence Roof to death.
"I trust people that I shouldn't. There's nothing wrong with me psychologically," Roof told the jury, according to local reporter Chad Mills, who is at the courthouse. "The point is that I'm not going to lie to you, not by myself or through somebody else," Roof added.
By intentionally stressing his sanity, Roof has essentially eliminated one of the few mitigating factors that might convince the jury to sentence him to life in prison rather than death.
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Many observers believe that Roof is representing himself in an attempt to sabotage his own defense to intentionally obtain a death sentence. Last week, Roof told U.S. District Judge Richard Gergel that he planned to call no witnesses or present any evidence that might sway a jury to spare his life. In representing himself, he is able to keep any questions about his mental state from the jury.
Roof's attorneys have been arguing unsuccessfully for months to present an insanity defense. Roof has vehemently opposed any such defense, and even wrote in a journal found his car just after the June 2015 shootings at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church that he is "morally opposed to psychology" because "it is a Jewish invention, and does nothing but invent diseases and tell people they have problems when they dont [sic]."
Despite his lawyers' hopes to present an insanity defense, Roof was deemed fit to stand trial, and to represent himself in the sentencing phase, after two competency hearings. Of his mental state, Judge Gergel commented that Roof has an "extremely high IQ" and "no cognitive impairment" that would prevent him from participating in his trial.
The jury is now tasked with considering several mitigating and aggravating factors in determining whether to sentence Roof to death or life in prison. The mitigating factors that could keep Roof off of death row include things like his young age at the time of the murders, and that he confessed to the crimes. The aggravating factors, however, which include whether he has remorse for what he did and the fact that the murders were racially motivated, seem to outweigh anything that could convince a jury that he deserves anything but a death sentence.
"I would like to make it crystal clear I do not regret what I did. I am not sorry. I have not shed a tear for the innocent people I killed," Roof wrote in a journal after his arrest.
Prosecutor Williams pounced on Roof's lack of remorse and the victims he targeted in his opening statements, telling the jury that Roof's crimes were worse than other murders because he had no regrets. "Six weeks after he was arrested he said the same thing," Williams said, referring to things Roof said prior to the murders and what he wrote in his journal after his arrest.
Williams plans to call more than three dozen witnesses, including family members of the victims, as he makes the case to send Roof to the death chamber. The sentencing phase is expected last two days.
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