Dylann Roof was convicted Thursday in the chilling attack on nine black church members who were shot to death last year during a Bible study, affirming the prosecution's portrayal of a young white man who hoped the slayings would start a race war or bring back segregation. Instead, the single biggest change to emerge from the June 17, 2015, slayings that shocked the nation was the removal of the Confederate flag from the South Carolina Statehouse, where it had flown for 50 years over the Capitol or on the grounds. Roof appeared with the flag in several photos in a racist manifesto. In his confession to the FBI, the gunman said he carried out the killings after researching "black on white crime" on the internet. He said he chose a church because that setting posed little danger to him. As the verdict was read, Roof just stared ahead, much as he did the entire trial. Family members of victims held hands and squeezed one another's arms. One woman nodded her head every time the clerk said "guilty." In all, Roof was convicted of 33 counts, the AP reports.
Jurors will reconvene early next month to hear more testimony and decide whether Roof gets the death penalty or life in prison. Roof told the judge again Thursday that he wanted to act as his own attorney during the penalty phase. In closing arguments, Assistant US Attorney Nathan Williams mocked Roof for calling himself brave in his hate-filled journal and during his confession, saying the real bravery came from the victims who tried to stop him as he fired 77 bullets at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal church. "Those people couldn't see the hatred in his heart any more than they could see the .45-caliber handgun and the eight magazines concealed around his waist," Williams said. Defense lawyer David Bruck conceded Roof committed the slayings, but he asked jurors to look into his head and see what caused him to become so full of hatred, calling him a suicidal loner who never grasped the gravity of what he did.