As It Happens

'I forgive you. My family forgives you.' Husband of victim reacts to Dylann Roof death sentence

Dylann Roof murdered nine people in cold blood. Now, he has been sentenced to death. One of his victim's widowers, Rev. Anthony Thompson, tells As it Happens how he forgave the killer, whose remorselessness left him "in awe."
Left: A crowd gathers outside the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church two days after a mass shooting left nine dead during a bible study. Right: Rev. Anthony Thompson, background, husband of victim Myra Thompson, wipes his face during a memorial in Charleston, S.C. in June 2016. (Left: REUTERS/Brian Snyder, Right: AP Photo/Chuck Burton)

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Throughout the trial, he offered no defense, apology or remorse. So on Wednesday, a judge in Charleston, South Carolina formalized the jury's verdict and sentenced Dylann Roof to death.

It has been a year-and-a-half since the young white supremacist walked into the historically black Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal (AME) Church. He attended a prayer meeting for an hour, then murdered nine parishioners.

Pallbearers carry the casket of Myra Thompson from the sanctuary at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church, in June 2015, after her funeral services in Charleston, S.C. (Grace Beahm/The Post And Courier via AP)
For some, the death sentence may be a relief. But many of the victims' relatives are deeply opposed to the death penalty.

Rev. Anthony Thompson's wife Myra was one of the parishioners killed. Here's part of his conversation with As it Happens guest host Helen Mann.

HELEN MANN: What was the first thing that went through your mind when you heard the judge deliver that sentence from the jury of the death penalty?

I do not believe in the death penalty. If I had it my way, he would have got a life sentence.- Rev. Anthony Thompson

ANTHONY THOMPSON: Well, I was satisfied just that it was over . . . I do not believe in the death penalty. If I had it my way, he would have got a life sentence. But, being that I had no control over the process of the court or the deliberations of the jury, he received, I guess, what he was supposed to get — that was the death penalty.

Anthony Thompson, husband of Emanuel Church shooting victim Myra Thompson, leaves the courthouse during a break at the Charleston Federal Courthouse during the federal trial of Dylann Roof in Charleston, South Carolina, U.S. January 10, 2017. (REUTERS/Randall Hill)
HM: What was the reaction of some of the other victims' family members? Do they share your views, do you think?

AT: There were some people who were just like me who did not believe in the death penalty, but accepted this because they call it justice. All of us were relieved. Really relieved. It's the first day that we really heard a lot of shouting and joking and laughing going on. It's almost like a sense of returning to normalcy. Some of the people in court were actually glad he got the death penalty. They went as far as saying they wish he went to hell . . . A lot of people were very bitter and still haven't got to the forgiving stage. Of course, even at the end of their testimony, a lot of them expressed that they hope that Dylann would change his heart and his attitude and give his life to Christ. 

HM: You know, a lot of people will remember Dylann Roof's first court appearance. Some of the victims' families actually shouted out that they forgave him. That made worldwide news. A lot of people, maybe, couldn't get their heads around that . . .
I was in awe. It made me angry. I just couldn't imagine, after being in jail for so long and at this date and time, he still had no remorse.- Rev. Anthony Thompson

AT: Well, I did at the bond hearing. I was one of those people. I had no intentions of even going to the bond hearing. I didn't see the significance in going to one. But I went because my children wanted to go. I went with the intentions of not saying anything . . . But, when I got there, God had other intentions. He literally came and told me He had something to say. And I got up and I said exactly what He told me. I said, 'I forgive you. My family forgives you. But you need to repent. You need to confess because you got a lot of trouble right now. But, if you give your life to the one who your life means the most to, you're going to be OK.'

Dylann Storm Roof appears by closed-circuit television at his bond hearing in Charleston, South Carolina, U.S. June 19, 2015 in a still image from video. (REUTERS/POOL/File Photo)
HM: And yet throughout this trial, he appeared unrepentant. I'm wondering how hard that was to sit through there when he kept reasserting his hate and said very clearly he had no remorse.

AT: Well, I was in awe. It made me angry. I just couldn't imagine, after being in jail for so long and at this date and time, he still had no remorse. No intention of saying he was sorry, but quite the opposite. Yeah, it made me angry. But, I forgave him. And I didn't take that back . . . I was just in awe to know, to just kind of wonder, how can a human being not have a conscience after being able to sit in jail for a while and hopefully think about what he did. I thought he was like me . . . But then I really saw him for who he is. He's just evil.

HM: You testified at the sentencing. What did you want Dylann Roof, the other people gathered in that courtroom, to know about your wife Myra?

She just gave her whole life to people.- Rev. Anthony Thompson

AT: Well, I wanted them to know, first of all, that she was a person. That person was a wife and a mother, a counsellor, a minister and a giving person. I wanted them to really know, in a general sense, who she was. So, that they can realize the loss — not only in my life and the life of my children — but the loss in the community and her church where she was so much needed . . . She just gave her whole life to people.