Dylann Roof, the 22-year-old loner who lived in a predominately Black town in South Carolina, but espoused violent hatred toward Blacks was found guilty on 33 federal charges in the killings of nine people at a June 2015 bible study at the historic Emanuel A.M.E. church in Charleston.
While federal prosecutors brought a drove of witnesses and mounds of evidence demonstrating his malevolent intent to target innocent people who had welcomed him into their evening prayer circle, his defense could offer nothing except that he had been skewed by constantly reading racist rhetoric online.
Although the conviction phase of the trial has ended, as predicted with Roof being found guilty, there is much more ground to cover. Here are five things you need to know.
1. This was only the U.S. government’s part of the case against Roof. He was convicted in U.S. District Court in Charleston on federal hate crimes charges. He was charged with a total of 33 crimes in connection with the slayings including 12 hate crimes, which include the nine he killed and the three he attempted to kill; 12 counts of obstruction of religion against those same people; and nine counts of use of a firearm to kill. These crimes carry the death penalty and jurors will return to the courtroom on Jan. 3 to decide whether he should be sentenced to life in prison or executed.
2. Roof must still undergo a state trial. The state of South Carolina has charged Roof with nine counts of murder, and one count of possession of a firearm during the commission of a violent crime. That trial begins Jan. 17. Gov. Nikki Haley has called for the death penalty in that case as well. A new judge, jury and set of prosecutors would be present in the court. It is not clear yet who his defense team would be or if he will opt to defend himself as he has in the penalty phase of the federal trial.
3. If he is sentenced to death, it could be years before his execution is carried out. If Roof is condemned in both trials, it is unclear who would execute him. Federal death sentences are rare and Roof would be only the third since 1988, when it was reinstated, to be executed by the U.S., all by lethal injection. Even after that, there could be a lengthy appeals process. For example, Timothy McVeigh was convicted of the Oklahoma City bombing in 1997, but was put to death in 2001. Plus due to a shortage of lethal injection drugs, the federal government reportedly does not have the combination used to execute prisoners. He will likely face the death penalty if convicted in the state trial as well, but South Carolina does not have lethal injection drugs, and last executed a person in 2011.
4. It is also nowhere near over for the families of the victims. The friends and loved ones of those who died must wait until the penalty phase is over, then sit through the state trial, and also through its penalty phase. But not all of them wish death on Roof. “I want that guy every morning when he wakes up, and every time he has an opportunity for quiet and solitude, to think of what Tywanza said to him: ‘We mean you no harm. You don’t have to do this,’ ” Andrew J. Savage III, a lawyer representing three survivors of the attack and many of their families members, told The New York Times last month. Some believe that capital punishment is immoral, while at the same time would help him evade years of punishment because he is such a young person.
5. There is still litigation being pursued outside of the trial. Dylann Roof shot his victims with a Glock .9mm pistol that he had no business with. He got it from a gun dealership called Shooter’s Choice in West Colombia, S.C. Although he denied having used any drugs in the past on a required form, Roof told police in early 2015 that he using a controlled substance illegally, which should have prevented him from buying a gun under federal rules. The FBI failed to recognize that red flag in Roof’s record and he went on to pass the three-day waiting period to purchase a firearm. Relatives of victims and their estate filed suit in July saying that if the FBI had done its job, Roof could have been prevented from getting the pistol. The agency has unsuccessfully sought to dismiss the suit.