Dylann Roof, the self-proclaimed white supremacist responsible for the murder of nine black church members attending a Bible study class in 2015, was sentenced to death on Tuesday.
There are approximately 11 million meetings in the U.S. every day, but this trial may go down in the nation’s history as one of the most important of 2017.
The jury conferred in private for almost three hours before coming forward with their final decision. According to the Death Penalty Information Center, Roof is the first criminal in U.S. history to be sentenced to death for federal hate crime convictions. He was formally convicted of the Charleston, South Carolina murders in December 2016 after a long six days of testimonies. Roof was found guilty of 33 charges, including hate crimes to obstruct the practice of religion. Seventeen of those charges implied the possibility of the death penalty as punishment.
According to several media outlets, Roof requested new attorneys after his sentence was given and stated that he didn’t trust his current team, which was made up of multiple experienced capital punishment defense lawyers. Roof’s lawyers defended him for the majority of the trial, but he handled the penalty portion alone, with his lawyers providing counsel.
U.S. District Judge Richard Gergel denied Roof’s request and issued a 14-day period in which he could file an appeal.
Before reading Roof’s sentence, Gergel opened the floor to family members and friends of those who were killed in 2015. Each of them addressed Roof directly, even asking him to look at them. He kept his head down.
During a particularly emotional testimony, Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church member Marsha Spencer told Roof that the shooting had left her “broken.” “What happened to you, Dylann?” she asked.
While Roof is the first criminal to receive a death sentence for hate crime convictions, the jury’s decision is still classified by federal law as a “binding recommendation,” which means that there will likely be around 10 years’ worth of appeals and that Roof could be over 30 before he is executed. In order for someone to be eligible for federal execution, their crime must be committed on a national scale. As of January 2017, only 23 people on death row have exhausted their appeal efforts and are eligible for federal execution.
State execution, on the other hand, is a much faster process. Compared to the federal government, which has only put three people to death since the death penalty’s return in 1988, states have executed 1,439 inmates in that same time period.
In his closing argument on Tuesday, Roof defended his decision to murder those nine innocent church members. In his initial interviews with FBI agents, he openly admitted his crimes. “I am guilty,” he said. “We all know I’m guilty.”