In a powerful juxtaposition Friday, federal prosecutors in the Dylann Roof sentencing trial flashed the killer’s birth certificate on video screens throughout the courtroom. It was followed by the death notices of his nine victims, each gunned down during a June 2015 prayer service at Emanuel AME Zion Church.
Cynthia Hurd’s government form appeared third on the screen, with the standard information about name, age and address.
Her brother took it from there.
For more than 45 minutes on the witness stand, Malcolm Graham filled in the important details about his big sister, whose death he’s still grieving.
“My heart ... is broken,” Graham said, pausing to gather his emotions as he answered a prosecutor’s question about what Hurd’s murder had meant. “My friend. My counselor. My mother. My life coach.
“When I found out about her passing, I was totally lost ... There’s something missing. I can’t go the store to replace it. I can’t reinvent it.”
Hurd was among the nine “Mother Emanuel” church members who died June 17, 2015, in the basement of the historic Charleston church.
Roof, 22, has already been convicted of the killings. Now his jury must decide whether he will spend the rest of his life in prison or be put to death.
Graham, a former Charlotte City Council member and state senator, remains convinced that Roof deserves to die for his crime.
But that was not his role on Friday.
Under questioning by Assistant U.S. Attorney Nathan Williams – as a photo of the smiling Hurd arm in arm with two of her brothers filled screens around the courtroom – Graham completed the portrait of his dead sister, detail by detail, story after story.
Graham said Hurd had driven him to be a better student, a better tennis player, a better father and husband, a better elected official.
A lifelong lover of reading, Hurd worked 31 years for the Charleston city libraries; for 16 years she was a part-time librarian for the College of Charleston. A city library has since been named in her honor. Her brother said that’s his favorite memorial to his dead sister: “Her name is surrounded by books.”
Graham said Hurd helped him raise his two daughters and had been actively involved in his campaigns. When Graham’s parents died in the 1980s, it was Hurd, her brother said, who became the family matriarch, kept the family together, “making sure we were all doing what we needed to do.”
Graham’s sister Jackie Jones later told the jury that when she was diagnosed with breast cancer two months before the shooting, she called Hurd before she called her husband.
Throughout Graham’s testimony, the pale, slender Roof stared straight ahead, as if focused on some other unfolding narrative.
The self-styled white supremacist is representing himself in the life-or-death phase of his trial.
FBI Agent Joseph Hamski, the lead investigator in the case, showed the jurors GPS mapping that indicated Roof had stalked the church for months leading up the shooting, making repeated trips from Columbia to Charleston to circle the church.
Roof apparently had other potential targets: Hamski said a list of African-American churches in downtown Charleston was recovered from the killer’s car.
“I did all I could do,” Roof wrote in a journal seized in August, portions of which Hamski read aloud. “I did what I thought would make the biggest wave. And now the fate of our race sits (with others.)”
Roof has expressed no remorse. In fact, Hamski said, as recently as Monday Roof wore shoes into the courtroom adorned with symbols associated with white supremacists. His user name on a white supremacist website: Lil Aryan.
With Roof not expected to offer a defense, Judge Richard Gergel said he hopes jurors can begin deliberations Tuesday. Roof's capital murder trial on state charges is scheduled to begin mid-month, in a different courthouse across the street.
Death sentences in federal court have become exceedingly rare. When Timothy McVeigh was put to death in 2001 for the Oklahoma City bombing, his execution was the first ordered by a federal court in 37 years. There have been none in the country since 2003.
Toward the close of Graham’s testimony, Williams asked him to read from one of the many books his librarian sister had given him throughout the years.
He chose Marian Wright Edelman's “25 Lessons for Life.” He read Lesson 10 at Hurd's funeral. It says: “Remember and help America remember that the fellowship of human beings is more important than the fellowship of race and class and gender in a democratic society.”
Hurd had given the book to Graham and his wife around the birth of their first daughter. Williams asked Graham to read Hurd’s inscription, which ended on an optimistic note. “Believe in the future,” Hurd wrote, “with its hope, promise and everlasting renewal.”
Moments later, Roof told the judge that he had no questions to add. Graham’s testimony was over, and he left the courtroom in tears.