Trials

Charleston church shooter tells jury: 'Nothing wrong with me psychologically'

Jonathan Serrie reports from Charleston, South Carolina

 

In his opening statement during the penalty phase of his trial Wednesday, Charleston church shooter Dylann Roof explained his reasons for acting as his own attorney. He said he wanted to prevent his lawyers from introducing mitigating evidence about his mental health and urged jurors to ignore anything the defense team may have said about this topic.

“There is nothing wrong with me psychologically,” Roof said.

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Acting as his own attorney, the white supremacist spoke directly to the same jurors who, last month, convicted him in the 2015 massacre at Emanuel AME Church. That jury must now decide whether Roof should spend the rest of his life in prison for his crimes, or face execution.

In the prosecution’s opening statement, Assistant U.S. Attorney Nathan Williams argued for the latter, reminding jurors of the racist motive for the crimes and Roof’s apparent lack of remorse. He argued that any of the murders alone would warrant the death penalty.

“Taken together, they justify the most significant penalty available to you,” Williams said.

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Prosecutors have begun calling on victims’ relatives to testify about the human impact of Roof’s crimes. Roof, on the other hand, plans to call no witnesses and present no evidence. However, he told the court he would offer a closing argument.

Roof’s decision to represent himself went against the advice of his own lawyers. But Philip Holloway, an Atlanta-based criminal defense attorney not associated with the Roof trial, said this trial may be a rare instance in which self-representation could benefit the defendant.

“Dylann Roof has little, if anything, to argue in his favor,” Holloway told FoxNews.com. “About the only thing he can do, and it’s sort of a Hail Mary, is to stand in front of the jury himself and make his opening statement and make the closing argument because they get to hear from him personally. And if he has any hope of swaying the jurors, it’s doing it that way without being subject to cross-examination.”

Judge Richard Gergel has imposed restrictions on the convict’s physical movement within the courtroom.

While speaking, Roof will not be allowed to approach witnesses or the jury. And while seated at the defendant’s table, Roof will remain in the chair furthest from the jury and relatives of the nine church shooting victims.

One of those relatives, Malcolm Graham, said the hardest part of sitting in on the trial was watching video of his now-deceased sister, Cynthia Hurd, walking into the church the night of the shooting with a smile on her face, preparing for what she thought would be a routine bible study in a safe and sacred space.

“It was difficult watching that and knowing that she would not walk out the same way she walked in,” Graham told FoxNews.com.

Graham, who served for a decade in the North Carolina State Senate, said some crimes are so heinous that execution is the only proper penalty.

“My sister and eight others died simply because they were there and they were black,” Graham said. “That cannot stand in a civilized society and that has to be punished.”

Speaking about Roof, Graham added, “There’s no room for him in a civilized society. I believe there’s no room for him in America’s smallest jail.”

Fox News’ Chip Bell and Multimedia Reporter Terace Garnier contributed to this report.

Jonathan Serrie joined Fox News Channel (FNC) in April 1999 and currently serves as a correspondent based in the Atlanta bureau.