It came as no surprise that a federal jury recommended the death penalty for Dylann Roof, the unapologetic, unrepentant young man who massacred nine African Americans inside a historic church in Charleston, S.C. Not only did he deliberately target innocent parishioners in the midst of Bible study for the sole purpose of advancing the cause of white supremacy, the trial was as one-sided as could be, writes criminologist James Alan Fox of Northeastern University in USA Today. Given the indisputable evidence of guilt and premeditation, the only possible defense against the charges would have been insanity. Roof’s rejection of mental illness as a defense at trial and as mitigation in sentencing speaks volumes about his mission, Fox says. Such a legal strategy would, from his perspective, have negated any legitimacy to his hateful agenda. It would have suggested that his racist ideology was merely a product of a diseased mind, not a valid political position.
Roof’s refusal to mount a case against death or to call any witnesses on his behalf “reflects a stoic readiness to become a martyr,” Fox writes. Like-minded racists would view Roof as a hero, and would invoke his name and the government’s attempt to silence him through the death penalty as a rallying cry for white supremacy. Because of his death sentence, Roof is guaranteed greater celebrity. Any appellate actions on his behalf and steps to prepare for his execution will undoubtedly be publicized widely, along with a reminder of his motivation for the assault. Fox believes that having Roof live the rest of his life in prison in obscurity would have been a far more palatable outcome. He concludes: “Our collective fascination with bizarre crimes — cleverly repackaged as a desire to understand aberrant behavior — has us as a willing audience for all sorts of violent malcontents. But we must avoid lending any credibility to such rants and raves.”