CHARLESTON, South Carolina– Dylann Roof will be formally sentenced Wednesday after jurors recommended the death penalty for killing nine people in a 2015 massacre at a historically black church in Charleston.
Roof will become the first federal hate crime defendant to be sentenced to death, a Justice Department spokesman said.
US District Judge Richard M. Gergel, who has presided over the trial, will hold the formal sentencing Wednesday at 9:30 a.m. ET.
Avowed white supremacist
Roof, who had chosen to represent himself during the penalty phase, has told the judge he wants to file a motion for new lawyers. Gergel said Roof can argue that on Wednesday but the judge is not inclined to let that happen.
The avowed white supremacist was convicted last month of federal murder and hate crimes charges. During the penalty phase, he cast his defense attorneys aside, telling jurors that he chose to represent himself to “prevent my lawyers from misrepresentation.”
No remorse and closing arguments
On Tuesday, he expressed no remorse during his closing argument. Roof reiterated that he had no choice but to kill nine people at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in June 2015.
“I felt like I had to do it, and I still do feel like I had to do it,” he said.
His statement followed the prosecutor’s impassioned, two-hour argument. Assistant US Attorney Jay Richardson reminded jurors that Roof sat with the church members for 40 minutes before opening fire. He pulled the trigger “more than 75 times … reloading seven times” as he stood over his victims, shooting them repeatedly, Richardson said.
Jurors had the option to recommend life in prison without the possibility of parole, but the 10 women and two men delivered a unanimous vote for the death penalty.
Yet, the jury’s recommendation and the sentencing phase may not mean the end for the case.
Case could go on for ‘very long time’
Death penalty cases are notorious for their complexity, often spending years in appeals and processes.
A group of defense attorneys and others who worked on Roof’s behalf issued a statement, saying the death penalty decision means the case will not be over for a “very long time.”
A former prosecutor in South Carolina, Holman Gossett said it’s possible for Roof could ask for a new trial.
“He didn’t have any attorneys helping him in the penalty phase so he may make that motion after reflecting on it,” Gossett told CNN affiliate WSPA. “Then it would go through the process of automatic hearings with appellate courts to see if there’s any reason under the law that it should not stand legal grounds.”
Federal executions rare
Since the federal death penalty was reinstated in 1988 after a 16-year moratorium, three federal inmates have been executed in the United States. There are 63 federal prisoners awaiting execution.
And Roof’s court appearances may be far from over.
He is also set to be tried on state murder charges, and prosecutors have said they’ll also seek the death penalty in that case.
CNN’s Catherine E. Shoichet and Jason Hanna wrote the story in Atlanta. Madison Park, Tristan Smith, Keith Allen, Darran Simon, Steve Almasy and Ralph Ellis contributed to this report.
By Khushbu Shah, Jason Hanna, Catherine E. Shoichet and Martin Savidge