CHARLESTON, SC (WCBD) — On January 11, 2017, US District Court Judge Richard Gergel sentenced Dylann Roof to death for killing 9 parishioners at Emanuel AME Church.
The sentence came after a recommendation from a federal jury.
More than a year after the trial, the jury’s foreman, Gerald Truesdale, shared his story with News 2, explaining how he came to the decision of the death penalty.
Truesdale has spent much of his life in an airplane seat. He’s a traveling businessman, but has always called Charleston home.
“My [job] territory, at one point, was from Moscow to Johannesburg, South Africa, but I’ve always lived in Charleston,” Truesdale said.
In December 2016, his civic duty put him in the jury seat.
“It felt like a 500 yard walk through the snow … I sat down exactly where you’d think the foreman would be, front, right. I sat down, and as soon as I sat down, Judge Gergel hit the gavel and said, ‘We have a jury.’”
Truesdale said opening statements and testimony immediately began.
Felicia Sanders was the first to take the stand and spoke directly to defendant Dylann Roof.
“When she said, I’m not sure the exact words, but it was something to the effect of, “You deserve to be in the pit of hell,” the only time the entire time of the trial … the only time he had any communication from an emotional standpoint, when she said, ‘the pit of hell,’ he went, ‘Pfft.’That was it,” Truesdale recalled.
Sanders was in the room the night Roof shot and killed nine people at Emanuel AME Church.
Her son, Tywanza, and aunt, Susie Jackson, were both victims.
“It’s ok until you’re looking at someone talking in the witness box talking about holding their child for the last time. Nobody gets used to that,” Truesdale said.
At the end of each day, Truesdale returned home to his wife, which is something he hadn’t done daily in years due to his job.
However, the law prevented him from talking about the trial.
“It was very strange sitting in a room with the one you most want to communicate with, and you can’t talk. That was difficult,” he said.
After the testimony finished, closing arguments were delivered, and jury deliberation began.
The alternates were dismissed leaving 12 jurors–ten women and two men. Truesdale was foreman.
The jury members could finally talk about they had just witnessed.
“I don’t think, in all reality, no matter what the thought process was, with the information and the data that was presented, there was no way you could not think that [Roof] did this,” Truesdale said.
Truesdale recalled a video from Shelby, NC of Dylann Roof’s confession with the FBI.
“So, at that point, it was done. We went around the room, ‘Guilty.’ ‘Guilty.’ ‘Guilty.’ Okay,” said Truesdale.
The jury found roof guilty on all 33 federal charges.
After a holiday break, the jury returned back to the courtroom in January for sentencing.
After hearing impact statements, the jury went back to deliberation. This time, they were to decide on a sentence recommendation of whether Roof should live or die for his crimes.
Truesdale was once again selected as foreman.
“Let’s go around the room, and get out of your system whatever. Scream, yell, cuss, do whatever we got to do to get your mind right for this monumental decision,” Trueman told the other jurors.
Truesdale’s personal decision about the death penalty went back to that morning when he read his daily devotional.
“’Whoever sheds human blood by humans, shall their blood be shed. For in the image of God has God made mankind.’ There are a lot of verses in the Bible. What are the chances of that one, on that day, at that time on the way, not knowing it was going to be the final day, that pops up on my phone? And, that was one the one I happen to look at?” Truesdale said.
In the deliberation room, 11 voted for the death penalty. One juror was unsure and needed to review a piece of evidence.
“She watched it and said, ‘Okay, turn it off, I’m done. Good, guilty, death penalty, I’m good. “
The jury’s recommendation was to sentence Dylann Roof to death.
“Probably the one who turned it to me was Susie Jackson. She’s 80-plus years old … I think he shot her 6 times at point blank range … 6 times. She was 80–plus. Really? You’re done,” Truesdale said.
Now, more than a year after the trial, Truesdale says he can look back on that time knowing that justice was served.
“People don’t necessarily need to make judgments on things they’re not involved in because it doesn’t really affect you,” Truesdale said.
“You see something on TV, you say, ‘They ought to just kill that person.’ Until you’re the guy in the court handing that 33 page document to a federal judge…until you’re the person handing that document that’s going to end that man’s life, you don’t even have the justification to make that comment,” Truesdale said.
Roof is currently on death row in Indiana.
June 17, 2018 will mark 3 years since the shooting.
To see more from Truesdale’s interview, click here.