Prosecutors Rest Death Penalty Case Against Church Shooter Dylann Roof

Jan 9, 2017
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KELLY MCEVERS, HOST:

There have been a lot of tears inside a courtroom in Charleston, S.C. these past few days. Family and friends of the nine people who were shot to death inside the Emanuel AME Church have been testifying about how much they miss their loved ones. They're witnesses for the prosecution during the sentencing phase of Dylann Roof's trial. The convicted killer, who is representing himself, has said very little so far and now the testimony is over. South Carolina Public Radio's Alexandra Olgin has been following the case and joins us now from outside the courthouse. Hi there.

ALEXANDRA OLGIN, BYLINE: Hello.

MCEVERS: So what has it been like inside the courtroom hearing this testimony?

OLGIN: It's been very hard to listen to. It's been gut-wrenching. There were nine people that were killed, but the impact has clearly reached far beyond those nine into the church and into the community and the city of Charleston. We heard kids cry about the loss of their parents, mother cry by the loss of her son and siblings who said that the loss of their brothers and sisters have left them empty. There were tissues on the ends of each of the wooden benches in the courtroom and at points they were depleted. At multiple points during this part of the trial, the sentencing phase, prosecutors played audio and video of the now-deceased victims. Some of them were preaching because multiple of the victims were actually in the ministry.

MCEVERS: And as we said, Dylann Roof has been representing himself, and he has objected to some of this testimony. What is the basis for his objections?

OLGIN: He objected to the amount of witnesses, as well as the extent and depth of their testimony. Originally, the prosecution had said they were going to call about 38 witnesses. That has since been narrowed down and they only called 25, but they were - in the beginning, the witnesses were going for a very, very long period of time, multiple hours. And Dylann Roof objected, saying that, you know, it needs to be cut shorter. And his attorneys, who have been sidelined, have been kind of frustrated.

At one point his lead attorney, David Bruck, stood up visibly frustrated and said Roof is not capable of protecting his own rights and objecting during the testimony. And he said, you know, this is a sentencing hearing, not a memorial service. And he pleaded with the judge, you have to do something to stop this. And he said the testimony had become sort of a runaway freight train.

MCEVERS: What was the response to those objections?

OLGIN: The lead federal prosecutor said that, you know, Roof chose to kill nine people and, you know, these victims are particularly good people, and the relatives are entitled to talk about their losses. The judge said he did everything he could to persuade Dylann Roof to not self-represent. There were two competency hearings. The judge said Roof clearly understands what he's doing, and if he's not choosing to object, that's his prerogative. So the judge said that his lawyers could not help him with these objections, and there was no way to sanitize these proceedings. He said it's emotional in its nature.

MCEVERS: So what happens next?

OLGIN: Closing arguments are set for tomorrow. This is the prosecutor's last chance. They are seeking the death penalty for Dylann Roof. They will talk to the jury. And then Dylann Roof, who's representing himself, is expected to give his own closing arguments. During opening statements, he only talked to the jury for just a couple minutes. He basically explained that he's representing himself because he didn't want to introduce any mental health evidence. And we heard earlier from Roof's writings that he doesn't believe in psychology. And he didn't do much to defend himself during the sentencing phase of the trial, so this is kind of his last chance to defend himself.

MCEVERS: So he didn't say much in his opening statements, but is there a worry that, you know, these closing arguments might be a chance for Roof to grandstand or make speeches?

OLGIN: It's really hard to tell because he hasn't said anything, and he hasn't given any indication of what he's going to say. So we really don't know what's going to happen during closing arguments.

MCEVERS: Alexandra Olgin is a reporter with South Carolina Public Radio. She joined us from outside the federal courthouse in Charleston. Thank you very much.

OLGIN: You're welcome.

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