Dylann Roof: who is the Charleston Church shooter, what did he do - and what’s his execution date?

The court said that ‘his crimes qualify him for the harshest penalty that a just society can impose’

A federal court has made the decision to uphold the death sentence handed to Charleston church shooter Dylann Roof. He is the first person to be handed the death penalty for a federal hate crime.

His attack on the church killed nine Black worshippers, and at his trial Roof told jurors: “I felt like I had to do it, and I still feel like I had to do it.”

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Who is Dylann Roof?

Roof killed nine people at the Charleston church during their bible study (Photo: Grace Beahm-Pool/Getty Images)

Roof is a convicted mass murderer, white supremacit and neo-nazi who killed nine people, all African Americans, during a bible study at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church on 17 June 2015.

Reverend Sharonda Coleman-Singleton, Cynthia Hurd, Susie Jackson, Ethel Lee Lance, Reverend Depayne Middleton-Doctor, Reverend Clementa Pinckney, Tywanza Sanders, Reverend Daniel Simmons Sr and Reverend Myra Thompson were all killed in the shooting.

Roof sat with the study group for around 45 minutes and it was during the final prayer, when everyone had their eyes closed, that he started firing. Of the 12 people he targeted, only three survived.

Following the attack, a website called The Last Rhodesian was discovered to belong to Roof, with the domain registered to his name at his last known address. The site featured pictures of Roof posing with weapons and a Confederate flag, and white supremacist and neo-nazi numerology.

As well as pictures, the website also hosted long text posts as well, with one of them stating that “it was obvious that Zimmerman was in the right”, referring to the fatal shooting of 17 year old African American high school student Trayvon Martin, who was unarmed, by George Zimmerman.

One post, titled “An Explanation”, concludes by saying: “I have no choice. I am not in the position to, alone, go into the ghetto and fight. I chose Charleston because it is the most historic city in my state, and at one time had the highest ratio of blacks to Whites in the country. We have no skinheads, no real KKK, no one doing anything but talking on the internet. Well someone has to have the bravery to take it to the real world, and I guess that has to be me.”

After his arrest, Roof admitted to carrying out the attack in hopes of starting a race war.

He was charged with 33 counts of hate crimes and nine counts of murder, and was sentenced to death in early 2017.

What’s the latest news?

On Wednesday (25 August), a federal appeals court upheld Roof’s death sentence.

He had appealed his sentence to the U.S 4th Circuit Court of Appeals, arguing that he should not have been allowed to represent himself during the penalty phase of his trial.

His attorneys said that Roof had successfully blocked jurors from hearing evidence regarding his mental health “under the delusion that he would be rescued from prison by white-nationalists - but only, bizarrely, if he kept his mental-impairments out of the public record”.

However, the three judge panel of the 4th U.S Court of Appeals unanimously rejected his case, finding no error on behalf of the trial judge, and saying: “His crimes qualify him for the harshest penalty that a just society can impose.”

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What did the court say?

In its ruling, the panel wrote: “Dylann Roof murdered African Americans at their church, during their Bible-study and worship. They had welcomed him. He slaughtered them.

“He did so with the express intent of terrorising not just his immediate victims at the historically important Mother Emanuel Church, but as many similar people as would hear of the mass murder. He used the internet to plan his attack and, using his crimes as a catalyst, intended to foment racial division and strife across America.

“He wanted the widest possible publicity for his atrocities, and, to that end, he purposefully left one person alive in the church “to tell the story.” (J.A. at 5017.) When apprehended, he frankly confessed, with barely a hint of remorse.

“No cold record or careful parsing of statutes and precedents can capture the full horror of what Roof did. His crimes qualify him for the harshest penalty that a just society can impose.”

When is his execution?

Roof will remain on death row at the Terre Haute Federal Prison in Indiana, with no set date yet decided for his execution.

In July, Attorney General Merrick Garland issued a moratorium on federal executions while the review of the Justice Department’s policies and procedures is undertaken.

Garland said: “The Department of Justice must ensure that everyone in the federal criminal justice system is not only afforded the rights guaranteed by the Constitution and laws of the United States, but is also treated fairly and humanely.”

He added: “Serious concerns have been raised about the continued use of the death penalty across the country, including arbitrariness in its application, disparate impact on people of colour, and the troubling number of exonorations in capital and other serious cases.

“Those weighty concerns deserve careful study and evaluation by lawmakers.”

No federal executions will take place whilst the review is pending.