Dylann Roof sentenced to death in Charleston church massacre

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CHARLESTON, S.C. — Dylann S. Roof, the impenitent and inscrutable white supremacist who killed nine African-American churchgoers in a brazenly racial assault almost 19 months ago, shocking the world over the persistence of extremist hatred in dark corners of the American South, was condemned to death by a federal jury on Tuesday.

The jury of nine whites and three blacks, who last month found Roof guilty of 33 counts for the attack at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in downtown Charleston, returned their unanimous verdict after about three hours of deliberations in the penalty phase of a heart-rending and often legally confounding trial. He showed no emotion as the verdict was read.

The guilt of Roof, who coolly confessed to the killings and then justified them without remorse in a jailhouse manifesto, was never in serious doubt during the first phase of the proceedings in U.S. District Court in December. By the time the jurors began their deliberations on his sentence, it seemed inevitable that they would lean toward death, not only because of the heinous nature of the crimes but because Roof, 22, insisted on denying any psychological incapacity, called no witnesses, presented no evidence in his defense and mostly sidelined his court-appointed lawyers.

The jury's decision on Tuesday effectively capped Roof's first trial for the killings on June 17, 2015. The jury found Roof guilty in December of hate crimes resulting in death, obstruction of religion and use of a firearm to commit murder during a crime of violence. Eighteen of the 33 counts carried a potential death sentence.

Federal law classifies the jury's decision on Tuesday as a binding "recommendation," and Roof will be sentenced formally at a later hearing, when survivors of the attack and relatives of the victims may testify without constraints in the trial intended to preserve his due process rights.

Yet the verdict confers no certainty about whether Roof will ever be put to death at a federal prison in Terre Haute, Indiana. His case could spur years of appeals — the courts could well consider his mental competency and even the tearful tenor of the sentencing phase — and the scarcity of lethal injection drugs could hinder his execution.

The federal government has not killed one of its prisoners since 2003.

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