For committing one of the most shocking crimes motivated by racial hatred in recent U.S. history, Dylan Roof—the 22-year-old white man who was convicted of the premeditated murder of nine black churchgoers during a bible study in 2015—received the death penalty on Tuesday.
The capital sentence, handed down by the jury who heard the case and convicted Roof last year, represents the first time a federal hate crimes case has resulted in the death penalty. Though many believe Roof deserves the ultimate punishment for his heinous crimes, at least one family member of a victim said executing Roof just gives him "the easy way out."
"I would give all of my smarts, all of my talents, every dollar I have. My lungs, my kidneys, my heart. Just for a moment to hear her voice. Forty-five seconds to kiss her. Thirty seconds to hold her hand."
—Arthur Stephen Hurd, whose wife was killed by RoofAccording to the Associated Press:
The jury deliberated his sentence for about three hours, capping a trial in which Roof did not fight for his life or show any remorse. He was his own attorney during sentencing and insisted that he wasn't mentally ill, but he never asked for forgiveness or mercy, or explained the crime.
And he threw away one last chance to plead for his life on Tuesday, telling jurors: "I still feel like I had to do it."
Every juror looked directly at Roof, 22, as he spoke for about five minutes. A few nodded as he reminded them that they said during jury selection they could fairly weigh the factors of his case. Only one of them, he noted, had to disagree to spare his life.
"I have the right to ask you to give me a life sentence, but I'm not sure what good it would do anyway," he said.
When the verdict was read, he stood stoic and showed no emotion. Several family members of victims wiped away quiet tears.
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As Liliana Segura reports in a thoughtful piece of journalism published at The Intercept Tuesday, family members of the victims continue to struggle with the legacy of Roof's crimes. Though some family members went public after the killings with their desire to forgive Roof, those gestures, Segura writes, "failed to capture the full spectrum of sentiment in Charleston, where there was no shortage of rage."
Segura spent time with Arthur Stephen Hurd, whose wife Cynthia was killed by Roof, as he explained the complex interchange between his longing and sadness; the internal weight of both disdain and forgiveness.
"I know that I have to [forgive him], because he is occupying space in my head that’s not necessary," Hurd said. He told Segura he compares his grieving process to moving a grand piano up a flight of stairs. "Some days I make good progress. Some days, I stand still because I have to breathe. And some days, I fall back a few steps because it’s too damn heavy."
"I refuse to hate him," he said. "But I think of him with much disdain. How dare he decide who lives and who dies?"
Hurd also told Segura he didn't need Roof to get the death penalty. "Cynthia wasn’t a big proponent of that," he said. "Up until this point, I really was. Now, all I can say is, if they give him death, that’s the easy way out."
Still, he communicated, the pain remains severe and deep—as does his love for his wife.
"I’m so lonely," Hurd confessed. "I go to the grave and I get a lawn chair and I sit for hours at a time. I would give all of my smarts, all of my talents, every dollar I have. My lungs, my kidneys, my heart. Just for a moment to hear her voice. Forty-five seconds to kiss her. Thirty seconds to hold her hand."