Jury Views Dylann Roof's Confession At Charleston Church Shooting Trial

Dec 9, 2016
Originally published on December 9, 2016 6:33 pm
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AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

In Charleston, S.C., today, a federal courtroom heard Dylann Roof talk in chilling detail about the shooting at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church. Prosecutors played tape of a two-hour FBI interrogation with Roof. It was recorded not long after the shootings in 2015. And in that tape, Roof discusses his mindset, his actions and his support of white supremacy.

South Carolina Public Radio's Alexandra Olgin has been in the courtroom today. She joins us now. And Alexandra, first of all, what did Dylann Roof say in this video?

ALEXANDRA OLGIN, BYLINE: Well, in the first couple minutes of the video with the FBI, he admits to killing the people in the church right away. He later laughs and says, I'm guilty. We all know I'm guilty. He said he almost backed out when he was sitting with the group in the bible study in the basement of the church.

And then he talked about how he felt this compulsion that he had to do something because, he said, groups like the KKK and the neo-Nazis weren't doing anything. He also said that he was just sitting in this Bible study for about 15 minutes, going back or forth - back and forth about whether or not he should do it. And as we know, he eventually went through and did shoot and kill nine people.

CORNISH: Prosecutors have said that Roof was a white supremacist. Now, what did we hear about those views from the videotape of Roof today?

OLGIN: He said that he did a lot of research online. He said it all started with the Trayvon Martin case. If you will remember, he was a 17-year-old African-American teenager who was shot in Florida in 2012. Roof said - he cited all these false black-on-white crime statistics that he found online. He said black people are always, quote, "racially aware" and view everything from that lens. He said white people are second-class citizens, and that's part of the, quote, "problem."

When FBI agents asked him about whether he agreed with Hitler, he said, I support Hitler, sure. He didn't - he said he didn't share any of his beliefs with anyone - not his family or his friends. He said he didn't even have a best friend. And he said he didn't share those beliefs because other people wouldn't likely agree with him.

CORNISH: What else stands out from that interrogation?

OLGIN: Well, he talked slowly. And he sometimes didn't answer right away. And he didn't seem upset by what he just did. He almost seemed cavalier. It doesn't appear to be clear that he had a very specific idea of what was supposed to happen after he committed this crime. All he said was he wanted agitation on racial issues.

Now, what is clear is he had planned to commit suicide. He said that he expected the police to be outside the church by the time he came outside, but they weren't. So he got in his car, and he left. And then the FBI agent asked him in the video, you know, what would he say to the families of victims? And he said that he couldn't even look at them. Now meanwhile, the families are now sitting right behind him in court.

CORNISH: Who else was in the courtroom? I mean what was the reaction while this was going on?

OLGIN: There were a lot of family members of victims and a couple of the survivors of the shooting in the courtroom. They were shaking their head and rubbing their eyes. It was silent. Some people got up and left, understandably. It was very emotional.

Roof himself didn't move. He just sat and stared down at papers on the defense table the whole time like he has been pretty much the whole trial. Some jurors put hands over their mouths. It was - it seemed like some of them were a little bit shocked by what was being said.

One survivor has already testified earlier this week, and there is - the prosecution has said they expect another survivor of the shootings to testify later in the trial.

CORNISH: That's Alexandra Olgin of South Carolina Public Radio in Charleston, S.C., at the federal courtroom for the trial of Dylann Roof, accused of the shooting rampage at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church. Alexandra, thank you.

OLGIN: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.