CHARLESTON, South Carolina—Even as a jury considers sentencing Dylann Roof to death for the killing of nine black worshipers, the 22-year-old has worn shoes adorned with racist symbols to court these past two months.
FBI Special Agent Joseph Hamski testified Friday that he has seen runes and a Celtic cross drawn on the insides on Roof shoes as recently as Monday, when Roof appeared in court for a hearing to determine his competency to stand trial. Hamski also saw these types of symbols—popular among white supremacists—as early as November when Roof’s trial began at the Charleston Federal Courthouse with jury selection. These symbols were also found inked on a pair of shoes seized during a search of Roof’s jail cell 16 months ago.
Roof, who has twice been found mentally competent by a judge to stand trial, was convicted in December of 33 crimes related to the racially motivated shooting rampage on June 17, 2015, in the basement of Emanuel A.M.E. Church in downtown Charleston. Since Wednesday a jury has heard emotional testimony from relatives of the victims as they decide to punish Roof with life imprisonment or execution by lethal injection.
The jury has also heard this week the contents of a nearly 40-page jailhouse manifesto Roof penned in the weeks following the massacre in which the killer assailed people of almost every type of race and religion, including fellow whites whom Roof deemed “pathetic cowards” for not rising up against “the lower races.” These revelations followed evidence presented earlier in the trial that included Roof’s taped confession of the killings and photos of Roof posing with a gun and the Confederate flag.
On Friday Hamski decoded for the jury assorted racist symbols found in Roof’s jailhouse writings and drawings. He also detailed Roof’s online activities within a white supremacist website.
Roof used the online handle LilAryan on the website and sought to meet other white supremacists in South Carolina, testified the FBI agent. On one occasion Roof shared on a message board his feelings about white women who are romantically involved with black men.
“Yes, they are race-traitors, but I don’t have this hate for them that others seem to have,” Roof wrote. “I actually feel sorry for them when I see them out. Because I know they are probably getting beaten.”
The FBI agent then described photos found on Roof’s cellphone after his arrest. One featured Roof pointing a gun at the camera while he stood in the kitchen. Another was an image of an elaborate swastika made from the arrangement of dozens of bullets, each one painstakingly placed in an upright position.
Roof, who is representing himself in court, asked no questions of Hamski during cross examination, which has been his habit with every witness called by the government. While many people in the courtroom have directed their gaze at the witnesses during testimony, crying or laughing at their recollections of loved ones, Roof has stared straight ahead at a wall without emotion.
Following Hamski on the stand were two siblings of Cynthia Hurd, a Charleston librarian who was gunned down by Roof just days before her 55th birthday.
Hurd’s younger brother Malcolm Graham told of how his sister had become his “life coach” long before that term was coined. Graham was a tennis player as a young man, an atypical athletic pursuit for a black man in Charleston in the 1970s.
Graham recalled how Hurd challenged her brother “to continue playing, to overcome the stereotypes, to dare to be different.” He took her advice to heart and it paid off: Graham earned a college scholarship to play tennis. Years later Graham was elected to public office in North Carolina, serving as a city councilman in Charlotte and a state senator. He was counting on his sister’s help as he planned a bid for Congress, but Hurd’s life was cut short, devastating Graham and his family.
“When we found out she passed that night I was at a total loss,” said Graham. “My life is empty.I’m living. I’m breathing. I’m fine. I’m fit. But there’s something missing. I can’t go to the store to replace it. I can’t reinvent it. And so it’s been tough.”
Hurd’s sister, Averil “Jackie” Jones, then testified how her sibling served as a lifelong role model.
“She was the older sister and she knew it,” said Jones, recalling Hurd’s protective instincts.
“You do what I say,” Jones recalls Hurd telling her. “I’m gonna lead you and guide you in the right direction and I’m never going to steer you wrong.”
In 2015 Jones was diagnosed with breast cancer. Her first phone call after the doctor’s visit was not to her husband but to Hurd, who had urged her to receive a mammogram after Jones experienced some pain under her arm.
“I got you,” Hurd told her sick sister. “We’re gonna handle this, we’re gonna deal with this. I got you.”
Hurd had planned to accompany her sister to doctor’s appointments but was then shot during Bible study at Emanuel A.M.E. church, where her family had worshipped for 60 years.
Jones has missed her presence deeply.
“Every day for me is a struggle. There’s not a day that goes by that I don’t think about my sister,” said Jones.
“I can’t hear her voice. I cant hear her smile over the phone. I can’t hear her laughter. I can’t get her wisdom. I can’t share my secrets. I can’t. I feel empty,” Jones continued. “When she died a part of me went with her. There’s a huge hole in my heart.”
Since Hurd’s death college scholarships have been established in her honor and a Charleston County library branch has been renamed for the longtime librarian who for 16 years worked two library jobs even though she did not need the money.
“Her name is surrounded by books and that’s a fitting tribute for her,” said Hurd’s brother, Graham.
Next on the witness stand came relatives of victim Ethel Lance, the 70-year-old sexton, or custodian, of Emanuel A.M.E. Church.
Lance’s eldest daughter, Sharon Risher, described how her mother had given birth to her, a biracial baby, at age 14 in 1958. Given the challenging circumstances of her birth, Risher was grateful Lance saw her pregnancy through.
“I know she had to deal with a lot of guilt and shame,” said Risher. “She was never one to shirk away from her duties. The duties she felt that she had and some she didn’t have. There was no stopping her.”
Lance was fond of fancy clothes and perfume. Risher sent her mother a package of perfume in June 2015. When the perfume arrived, Lance was no longer alive to enjoy its scent.
Now Risher uses the perfume to conjure memories of her late mother.
“I spray that perfume on me,” said Risher, “because she’s all over me.”
The final witness called by the government on Friday was Walter “Bernie” Bernard Jackson, Jr., who described himself as the “favorite grandson” of Susie Jackson, who at age 87 was the oldest of Roof’s victims.
The grandson recalled how his grandmother would often travel hundreds of miles on a chartered bus with other relatives to attend graduations, weddings and other important family events.
Susie Jackson, said her grandson, was a kind woman who never seemed to be able to say no and was generous with her love.
When Bernie Jackson’s hair began to turn gray at a relatively young age, his grandmother encouraged him to embrace the change.
“Own it. It looks nice on you. Be who you are,” he remembered his grandmother telling him.
Susie Jackson shared similar advice about confronting other challenges in life, instructing her grandson to shrug off his troubles.
“She always told me to just keep my head up,” said Bernie Jackson. “There’s nothing too hard for God and there’s nothing too hard for you.”
Roof’s sentencing hearing is scheduled to continue Monday.