Dylann Roof formally sentenced to death, sits silently as he is told he will 'rot in hell'

A file picture from 2015 shows Dylann Roof (centre) appearing via video link at a bond hearing.
A file picture from 2015 shows Dylann Roof (centre) appearing via video link at a bond hearing.PHOTO: EPA

CHARLESTON (AFP) - A US federal judge on Wednesday (Jan 11) formally sentenced white supremacist Dylann Roof to death over the racially-charged killings of nine black churchgoers in South Carolina, one day after a jury decided he should be executed.

Before the sentence was handed down, more than 30 people addressed the court to honour Roof's victims and detail the pain caused by his shooting rampage on June 17, 2015.

Roof sat silently, staring straight ahead at a wall, as he was berated by angry and tearful family and friends of the victims, who told him he would "rot in hell."

Others called him "the devil," "the spawn of Satan" or Satan himself, a "subhuman miscreant" who was "filled with evil and hate."

Roof fired at least 77 bullets in the deadly attack carried out at the end of a Bible study session in the basement of the historic Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in downtown Charleston.

"This trial has produced no winners, only losers," US District Judge Richard Gergel said before issuing his formal sentence.

Relatives of the victims addressed the 22-year-old directly during the proceedings on Wednesday, castigating him for not looking their way or reacting to their words.

He remained impassive, as he did for the entirety of his trial, which began in November and saw him convicted of 33 federal crimes associated with the massacre, including hate crimes resulting in death.

"For you to sit there every day... and never apologize... it's hurtful," said Gayle Jackson, a relative of 87-year-old victim Susie Jackson.

"I pray that your soul goes to hell." .


But some extended forgiveness to Roof - with the sister-in-law to victim Cynthia Hurd, Sheila Capers, offering to visit him in prison and pray with him.

"I pray that God sends someone to you to reach you," said Capers, "so when you are executed, you'll be able to go to heaven, too." Many urged Roof, who prior to the crime published an online manifesto outlining his extensive racist beliefs and posed in photographs with a gun and assorted racist symbols, to repent and find religion.

"The only thing wrong with him is his heart," said Blondell Gadsden, a sister to victim Myra Thompson. "I ask God to please work on his heart." Roof and his lawyers elected not to address the court following the witness remarks. The defense did not call on any relatives or anyone else to speak on Roof's behalf.

The convict said little during the proceedings except to ask for new lawyers, having sidelined his legal counsel for parts of the trial in order to represent himself.

His request was denied by the judge.

Beyond the anger, relatives and friends of the victims spoke of the resilience of their families and their resolve to move forward in their lives while continuing to honor the fallen.

"At the end of the day I'm still gonna be strong because my momma taught me to be strong," said Esther Lance, daughter of victim and church caretaker Ethel Lance.

She was followed by her sister, Sharon Risher, who told how her mother's murder had caused fissures within the family - rifts that she is determined to bridge.

"That fabric that you tore, Dylann Roof, it will be mended no matter how long it takes," said Risher.