Dylann Roof hesitated for about 20 seconds when an FBI agent asked him what he was doing on the night nine black church members were killed during Bible study.
“Uh, I did it,” Roof can be heard saying on a video recording of the questioning, which was played in public for first time Friday at his death penalty trial. After waiving his rights and about a minute of small talk, the agents pressed Roof gently — asking him exactly what he did. He paused another 30 seconds or so.
“I killed them,” Roof said. As he talked more, he chuckled and said, “Well, I killed them, I guess.”
Only the first few minutes of Roof’s confession was shown before the court took a break. The rest of the blurry video will be shown throughout the third day of testimony.
Roof is accused of opening fire inside a basement room of the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church on June 17, 2015, just as members of the Bible study closed their eyes for a final prayer.
In an opening statement earlier this week, assistant U.S. Attorney Jay Richardson said Roof not only confessed, but gave chilling details on his preparation and his motivation for the attack when he spoke to law enforcement.
There were hints about that in the first minutes of the confession. Roof told the agents he didn’t start firing as soon as he entered.
Deciding whether to shoot
“I was sitting there thinking about whether I should do it or not. That’s why I sat there for 15 minutes. I could have walked out,” Roof said.
Church surveillance videos show Roof was inside for closer to 45 minutes. A survivor testified that he was given a Bible and a study guide to follow along with the prayer group.
Roof, as he has for much of the trial, hardly looked up as the confession played.
FBI agent Michael Stansbury said he pushed Roof to confess so quickly because he sensed he wanted to talk.
“He was calm. He wasn’t upset,” Stansbury said.
Roof is charged with 33 federal counts, including hate crimes. His defence team has largely conceded that he committed the slayings and has instead focused on trying to spare him from the death penalty.
On Friday, they asked the judge to allow them to present more evidence about his personality and state of mind, and U.S. District Judge Richard Gergel said he would take up the issue on a case by case basis before jurors begin hearing testimony from a witness.
If jurors find Roof guilty, they will decide whether he should be put to death or spend the rest of his life in prison. Roof has said he wants to represent himself during the penalty phase of the trial.
The only other glimpse into Roof’s motivation is a 2,000-word statement he posted online on the afternoon of the shooting and 60 photos he carefully picked from more than 1,000 he had taken, Richardson said.
In Roof’s essay, he said he thought blacks were stupid, inferior to whites and violent.
Among other things, he wrote, “we have no skinheads, no real KKK, no one doing anything but talking on the internet. Well someone has to have the bravery to take it to the real world, and I guess that has to be me.”