Jurors on Wednesday heard, in Dylann Roof’s own words, how the self-avowed white nationalist felt about his actions in the weeks after he gunned down nine people inside a historic black Charleston church.
Roof, then 21, wrote in a jailhouse journal after the June 17, 2015, mass shooting that the only sympathy he held was for himself, and for the white people he believed were "forced to live in this sick country." According to the Post and Courier in Charleston, Roof's words were shown on a large screen to jurors who will decide whether Roof lives or dies.
His pity, he wrote, was saved for the white people he said were “killed daily at the hands of the lower race.” He wrote that he also had pity for himself because he had to sit in a jail cell instead of watching movies, eating nice meals or driving his car, the Post and Courier reported.
Roof wrote that “it was worth it.”
Testimony began Wednesday in the penalty phase of Roof’s federal hate crimes trial. He was convicted last month of 33 separate charges stemming from the mass shooting that killed nine members of the congregation of Emanuel AME Church, including its pastor, the Rev. Clementa Pinckney.
Clementa Pinckney's wife, Jennifer Pinckney, testified Wednesday about hearing gunshots ring out as she and the couple's daughter, 6-year-old Malana Pinckney, sat in her husband's office waiting for him to finish that week's Bible study. She said that she initially thought the popping noises she heard were a generator blowing.
When she realized what the sounds really were, she grabbed her daughter and ran into an adjoining room, where they huddled together under a secretary’s desk.
"Is Daddy going to die?" Jennifer Pinckney recalled her daughter asking, according to the Post and Courier. "I said, 'Malana, be quiet. Don't say anything.'"
She testified that the sound of the gunfire shifted as the gunman moved through the fellowship hall, killing one after another of the church members who had welcomed him to their Bible study. Then, the doorknob into the room she and her daughter hid in started to turn.
“A chill came completely over me,” Jennifer Pinckney testified. “I was, like, ‘This is it. This is it for us.’”
Instead of moving into the room where they hid, Roof fled the church. Jennifer Pinckney testified that she knew the gunman was gone when she heard the chime of a bell on the church door signal his departure.
She crawled out from under the desk and dialed 911, the Post and Courier reported.
Roof, who is representing himself in the penalty phase of his case, spent less than five minutes on his opening statement Wednesday morning, the newspaper said. He asked the jury to forget statements made during the guilt phase of the trial by his defense lawyer, David Bruck, who cast doubt on his client’s state of mind.
“There is nothing wrong with me psychologically,” Roof told the jurors.
The Post and Courier reported that Roof said it is "absolutely true" that he decided to act as his own attorney in order to keep Bruck from presenting his mental health records.
“But it isn’t because I have a mental illness I don’t want you to know about,” Roof said. “It isn’t because I’m trying to keep a secret. There’s nothing wrong with me.”
Roof's mental competency was the subject of a closed-door hearing earlier this week after which U.S. District Judge Richard Gergel found him competent to proceed with the penalty phase of the trial. The Post and Courier reported that the hearing, Roof's second since jury selection began, was requested after Roof made it clear that he planned to call no witnesses and present no evidence to the jurors deciding his fate.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Jay Richardson, who is prosecuting Roof, told jurors they would hear a lot over the next several days about the people Roof killed and the grief left behind in his wake. In questioning Jennifer Pinckney about her husband, he drew out a picture of a man who became a pastor at the age of 18 and went on to also become active in state government.
Clementa Pinckney was a state senator when he was killed.
“He was a voice for the voiceless. He was always listening to people and he would carry those issues back to Columbia with him,” Jennifer Pinckney said.
She described him as a doting husband and father who read to their children even before they were born, the Post and Courier reported. Shortly before he was slain, he asked one of their daughters to write a report on the history of New Orleans, which the family had plans to visit.
The little girl never got the chance to give her father that report, Jennifer Pinckney testified.
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