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Next Phase Of Dylann Roof's Murder Trial Will Determine Punishment


Dylann Roof will be back in federal court this week. He's the 22-year-old South Carolina man convicted of killing nine people in a racially motivated church shooting in Charleston in 2015. Now the same jurors who convicted him will decide whether he should be executed or spend the rest of his life in prison. Tomorrow, the judge in the case will rule on whether Roof is competent to represent himself. South Carolina Public Radio's Alexandra Olgin reports.

ALEXANDRA OLGIN, BYLINE: Melvin Graham flipped through a stack of laminated awards in honor of his sister.

MELVIN GRAHAM: This is the Cynthia Graham Hurd Endowed Fellowship at University of South Carolina. This is for a librarian.

OLGIN: Hurd was one of the nine killed by Roof during the bible study at the Emanuel AME Church in June 2015. The 54-year-old was a librarian. The den in Graham's house is a shrine to his sister. There are photos of Cynthia and several honors and awards displayed.

GRAHAM: The library naming was the highlight if I had to pick one because there's something that can't be taken away from her. That's something that's there in the public.

OLGIN: Graham was in the courtroom during the trial and will be there during sentencing. He said it was surreal to sit there in court and hear details about his sister's death. He believes Roof should be executed.

GRAHAM: The death penalty should be used in extreme circumstances where there's absolutely no doubt. This is the case where there's no doubt. This is the extreme.

OLGIN: The federal government rarely executes criminals. Since 1976, it has only killed three people, including Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh. To Graham, the harshness of the punishment would be symbolic.

GRAHAM: If he doesn't get the death penalty, this sends a message to every racist in the country. Come to South Carolina, and you can kill with impunity and not have to suffer the consequences. The worst thing that can happen to you is you spend the rest of your life in prison.

OLGIN: Which is what Roof would get if the 12 jurors can't unanimously agree to sentence him to death. Chris Adams has represented several capital defendants in federal trials. Since roof has decided to represent himself during sentencing, his attorneys are now on standby, which Adam says allows them to do very little.

CHRIS ADAMS: They're really being relegated to the role of passing yellow stickies and taking notes.

OLGIN: Roof said he doesn't plan to present any mental health evidence or call any witnesses during the sentencing phase of his trial. Adam says that's unfair to the jurors.

ADAMS: The adversarial system only works if there are adversaries advocating on their side. The system breaks down when you only have one side doing its job. And so the jurors are really going to be the ones who are cheated in this process.

OLGIN: Prosecutors say they plan to call more than 30 witnesses. Not all relatives of the nine people killed in the church fellowship hall believe in the death penalty. The Reverend Sharon Risher is one of them. She lost her mother, Ethel Lance, in the massacre. She doesn't support capital punishment for religious reasons, but she says, thankfully, it's not her choice.

SHARON RISHER: That's not my decision. So I can feel whatever I want to feel because that's not on me. And whatever the judicial system decide to do with him, I pray that he gets the sentence that he should get, whether that be death or to spend the rest of his life in jail.

OLGIN: Regardless of what the federal jury decides, Roof faces a state trial for murder later this month. South Carolina prosecutors have said they intend to seek the death penalty. For NPR News, I'm Alexandra Olgin in Charleston, S.C. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.