When Dylann Roof was sentenced to die for opening fire and killing nine parishioners at a Black church in South Carolina, the 22-year-old white supremacist joined a small and notorious group of criminals on federal death row.
Roof became the 63rd inmate awaiting execution after the jury issued a federal death-penalty verdict for the mass murders he committed at Emanuel AME Church in June 2015.
Though Roof is expected to remain jailed in Charleston County until his state murder trial is resolved, he will most likely end up serving his sentence at the high-security U.S. penitentiary in Terre Haute, Indiana, according to the Post and Courier.
Terre Haute is a prison complex consisting of a maximum-security penitentiary, a medium-security federal correctional institute, and a low-security camp. The government chose Terra Haute partly due to its central location in the United States.
The USP’s maximum-security facility houses federal death-row inmates inside the “Special Confinement Unit,” as well as the federal execution chamber. The prison’s method of execution is lethal injection.
Prisoners on federal death row make up a tiny percentage of the nearly 3,000 condemned inmates scattered across the country, according to the Death Penalty Information Center. Since the federal government reinstated capital punishment nearly 30 years ago, the U.S. Attorney’s Office has only authorized prosecutors to seek execution in about 500 cases.
The last person before Roof to receive a federal death sentence was Boston Marathon bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, who was condemned to die by a jury in 2015.
Currently, two other inmates convicted in South Carolina occupy spaces there among the condemned. Chadrick Fulks, 39, and Brandon Basham, 35, were sentenced to die for carjacking and kidnapping a 44-year-old Galivants Ferry woman they killed in 2002 during a crime spree that followed their escape from a Kentucky jail.Only three federal prisoners have been put to death since 1963. The last one was Louis Jones Jr., 53, a Gulf War veteran who raped and killed an Army recruit in Texas. He received a lethal injection in March 2003.
Timothy McVeigh, who was convicted for his responsibility for the Oklahoma City bombing, was executed at USP Terra Haute in 2001. McVeigh was the first prisoner executed by the U.S. government since the moratorium on the death penalty was lifted in 1976.
In 2008, the ACLU accused USP of having “grossly inadequate” conditions at the Special Confinement Unit, saying that those on death row were routinely denied medical care and mental-health services, as well as being subjected to incessant noise that leads to sleep deprivation, according to Business Insider.
“They are in a small cell by themselves. All their meals are pushed through a slot. There is no recreation, but they can go out of their cells three times a week into cages,” Sister Rita Clare Gerardot, who has been a spiritual adviser to death-row inmates at Terre Haute, told The Tribune-Star. “Truthfully, I don’t know how they keep their sanity.”
Inmates are permitted to speak to one another from the front of their cells and have limited access to a phone, email, and a library.
The facility also houses a special unit opened in 2006 for terrorism-related offenses called the Communications Management Units (CMU), which some have nicknamed “Guantanamo North” due to the fact that the unit houses many men convicted for notable post-9/11 cases — including hijackers and inmates convicted of involvement in the 1993 World Trade Center bombing.
Many experts believe that Roof’s journey to the death chamber could be long and complicated because complex legal challenges, shortages of the drugs used in lethal injections, and the appeals process all have the potential to significantly delay his execution date.
Main photo: Dylann Roof [Michael Rosenblum/Facebook]