The Aum Shinrikyo Executions: Why Now?

With the execution of Aum Shinrikyo leader and six of his followers, Japan looks to leave behind an era of tragedy. 
On July 6, 2018, Japanese authorities executed seven members of the religious movement Aum Shinrikyo (Aum true religion, or supreme truth), which carried out the 1995 Tokyo subway sarin attack and a series of other atrocities. None of the seven of the executed men were directly involved in releasing the gas on that tragic day; four of those who did remain under a death sentence, and their executions may be imminent.
The seven executed were involved in planning and organizing the various crimes committed by Aum. Asahara Shoko (born Matsumoto Chizuo), was the founder and leader of the movement, having developed the doctrinal system instrumental to Aum’s violence and its concept of a final cosmic war of good (Aum) against evil (the corrupt material world and everyone — from the Japanese government to the general public — who lived in it). Asahara is believed to have given …

Dylann Roof Found Guilty in Charleston Church Massacre

Dylann Roof Found Guilty in Charleston Church Massacre
Dylann Roof Found Guilty in Charleston Church Massacre
CHARLESTON, S.C. — Dylann S. Roof, a self-radicalized young white supremacist who killed nine black parishioners last year when he opened fire during a long-planned assault on Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church, was found guilty by a federal jury here on Thursday.

The jury convicted Mr. Roof of nine counts of hate crimes resulting in death, three counts of hate crimes involving an attempt to kill (there were three survivors), nine counts of obstructing the exercise of religion resulting in death, three counts of that charge with an attempt to kill, and nine counts of using a firearm to commit murder during a crime of violence.

Mr. Roof, 22, stood, his hands at his side and his face emotionless, as a clerk read the verdict aloud in court. Two deputy United States marshals stood behind Mr. Roof, whose lawyers also stood nearby.

He will face the same jurors next month when they gather on Jan. 3 to begin a second and more suspenseful phase of his trial to decide whether he will be sentenced to death or life in prison without parole.

As the first verdicts were read, a few women in the courtroom nodded with satisfaction. But as the clerk read the counts, a process that took about 12 minutes, the women eventually drew still. After the court adjourned, the two adult survivors of the attack, Felicia Sanders and Polly Sheppard, shared a long embrace.

Reaction was swift. “It is my hope that the survivors, the families and the people of South Carolina can find some peace in the fact that justice has been served,” Gov. Nikki R. Haley of South Carolina said in a statement.

The jury reached its verdict hours after hearing closing arguments in the case. The outcome seemed a foregone conclusion from the first minutes of the trial, which began on Dec. 7 and included a swift acknowledgment from the chief defense lawyer, David I. Bruck, that Mr. Roof was responsible for the “astonishing, horrible attack” on June 17, 2015.

Indeed, Mr. Roof had chillingly confessed to investigators nearly 18 monthsearlier and revealed his purpose in a blatantly racist manifesto that he published online. His choice of targets seemed intensely premeditated — he scouted the church half a dozen times — although he also researched other black churches and a festival elsewhere in South Carolina before settling on Charleston because, he wrote, it is the “most historic city in my state.”

During 53 minutes before the jury, Assistant United States Attorney Nathan S. Williams, in his closing statement, depicted Mr. Roof as “a man of hatred, a man who’s proven to be a coward and a man of immense racial ignorance.” Repeatedly using the word “hatred” to connect Mr. Roof to the hate-crime counts, Mr. Williams said the defendant had “executed them because he believes that they are nothing more than animals.”

The prosecutor’s voice often rose in outrage, and the jurors were again shown photographs of the carnage Mr. Roof left behind. “He must be held accountable for each and every action he took in that church,” Mr. Williams urged.

As he has throughout the trial, Mr. Bruck responded by planting suggestions that Mr. Roof was mentally unstable, and thus not fully accountable. He peppered his closing statement with words like “abnormal,” “irrationality,” “senselessness,” “illogical,” “obsessive,” “delusional,” and “suicidal.” Mr. Roof told the F.B.I. in a confession shortly after being arrested that he had saved ammunition to kill himself if, as he expected, he confronted the police when he left the church.

Such an argument would ordinarily be advanced during the trial’s penalty phase, but Mr. Roof said again on Thursday that he intends to represent himself at that point, presumably because he hopes to avoid courtroom disclosures about his family and psychological background. Although Mr. Roof may change his mind, Thursday’s closing argument may well been Mr. Bruck’s last opportunity to plant the defense’s theory.

He referred to Mr. Roof as “lost.” He said “there is something wrong with his perception” and urged the jury “to understand what was going on in his head.”

The judge, Richard M. Gergel of United States District Court, consistently refused to allow the defense to introduce what it described as “evidence of the defendant’s state of mind and personal characteristics.” Thursday was no different. When Mr. Bruck ventured too close to discussion of mental health during his closing statement, prosecutors interrupted with objections, and Judge Gergel quickly and forcefully announced: “Sustained.”

The Wednesday night attack at the oldest A.M.E. congregation in the South began less than an hour after Mr. Roof unexpectedly entered through an unlocked side door and took a seat at a weekly Bible study meeting. The congregants, including the church’s pastor, the Rev. Clementa C. Pinckney, were studying the parable of the sower.

The session was passing without incident — one victim, Tywanza Sanders, even recorded a few moments on his cellphone and posted the video to Snapchat — but when the congregants closed their eyes for a familiar benediction, the staccato report of gunfire echoed through the ground-floor fellowship hall.

When the congregants looked up, they saw Mr. Roof holding a Glock .45 caliber semiautomatic pistol he had bought about two months earlier and concealed in a pack on his waist. Mr. Pinckney was wounded, and the churchgoers were diving below the room’s circular tables. Mr. Roof kept firing, emptying magazine after magazine, and striking the victims at least 60 times. One crime scene photo showed one of the tables bearing an opened Bible, a folded study sheet and an empty magazine.

It was one of the most unfathomable racial attacks in decades, and it upended the notion of a post-racial America that some had imagined after the election of the country’s first black president. But fears of street violence eased when family members of five victims appeared at Mr. Roof’s bond hearing less than 48 hours after the killings and expressed forgiveness for the accused. President Obama flew to Charleston for Mr. Pinckney’s memorial service and delivered a eulogy in the form of an indignant and sorrowful meditation on race.

This elegant port city where half of all slaves disembarked and the Civil War began soon assumed a mantle of racial healing, although some in the community found the good feelings a superficial papering over of inequities in education, law enforcement and poverty. And the wounds were reopened this month when a state court jury deadlocked in the case of Michael T. Slager, the former North Charleston police officer accused of murder for shooting an unarmed black motorist.

The victims of the attack at Mother Emanuel, as the church is known, were Mr. Pinckney; Cynthia Hurd; Susie Jackson; Ethel Lance; the Rev. DePayne Middleton-Doctor; Tywanza Sanders; the Rev. Daniel L. Simmons Sr.; the Rev. Sharonda Coleman-Singleton; and Myra Thompson.

The three survivors were Ms. Sanders, Ms. Sheppard and Ms. Sanders’s granddaughter, a minor identified in the indictment only as K.M. During turns on the witness stand that started and finished the testimony for the prosecution, Ms. Sanders and Ms. Sheppard identified Mr. Roof as the gunman and described the havoc that turned a house of worship into the blood-soaked scene of yet another mass killing.

Eight of the victims died at the church, cut down by the hollow-point rounds that Mr. Roof had brought with him from his home in the Columbia area, about two hours away.

Ms. Sheppard, the government’s final witness, told jurors that Mr. Roof had approached her and asked whether she was wounded. She was not.

“I’m going to leave you to tell the story,” Mr. Roof replied, according to Ms. Sheppard.

He soon fled the church on Henrietta Street, driving into the night, he said later, in “absolute awe” that he had not been confronted by police officers responding to the scene. As Mr. Roof absconded toward North Carolina, the authorities here confronted a gruesome scene and bodies shredded by bullets. Mr. Roof was arrested the next morning in Shelby, N.C., where F.B.I. agents questioned him for about two hours and began to piece together his path to racist radicalization and how, over the course of six months, he planned the assault on Emanuel.

Dylann Roof photographed "proudly wearing a jacket with patches of the apartheid-era flags of South Africa and Rhodesia."
Dylann Roof photographed "proudly wearing a jacket bearing patches
of the apartheid-era flags of South Africa and Rhodesia."
But before Mr. Roof spoke of his beliefs, which he had detailed in a handwritten journal and an online manifesto, he admitted to the attack. “I did it,” Mr. Roof said in the F.B.I. interview, which was played in its entirety during the third of six days of testimony.

The confession was the centerpiece of the prosecution’s case, which was bolstered by the accounts of Ms. Sanders and Ms. Sheppard, which moved courtroom observers to tears. Prosecutors also produced an array of technical evidence, such as phone records and GPS data, to demonstrate Mr. Roof’s premeditation and to document his views on race.

He wrote that he mounted the attack in Charleston because no one else would take a stand against what he perceived as an epidemic of black-on-white crime and the relegation of white Americans to second-class status. He called himself a white nationalist, as well as a white supremacist, and said he subscribed to ideologies advanced by Klansmen and Nazis. He wrote of his disdain for black and Jewish people, among others.

Mr. Roof proudly wore a jacket bearing patches of the apartheid-era flags of South Africa and Rhodesia and posed in photographs with the Confederate battle flag. In a consequence that he surely did not anticipate, that flag was removed from the grounds of the South Carolina State House in response to the church killings, taken down by a Republican governor and state Legislature after decades of resistance.

Mr. Roof’s court-appointed lawyers called no witnesses during the guilt phase of the trial, and it is unclear whether the jury will ever consider their theory that Mr. Roof’s behavior derived from mental illness.

The decision to try Mr. Roof was a subject of some dispute. Through his lawyers, he had offered to plead guilty in exchange for a sentence of life in prison. Ms. Sanders and Ms. Sheppard both supported such an agreement, as did many family members of the victims.

But the Justice Department chose to seek the death penalty, in part, prosecutors said in a court filing, because of Mr. Roof “expressed hatred and contempt toward African-Americans, as well as other groups.”

Despite their reservations, Ms. Sanders and relatives of the victims filed into Courtroom Six for nearly every moment of the trial.

Mr. Roof never looked toward them.

Source: The New York Times, Kevin Sack, Alan Blinder, December 15, 2016

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