Dylann Roof trial: ‘He put 5 bullets in my son’, church attack survivor testifies – Los Angeles Times
Federal prosecutors on Wednesday began to lay out their case against Dylann Roof, the self-avowed white supremacist charged with killing nine black parishioners at the historic Emanuel AME Church, describing him as “cold and calculated” as he pulled out a Glock .45-caliber pistol and fired more than 70 shots at a Bible study class.
“He seemed to the 12 to be harmless,” Asst. U.S. Atty. Julius “Jay” Richardson told jurors, describing each of the congregants who had gathered at the church June 17, 2015, to read the Book of Mark’s Parable of the Sower.
“Little did they know what a cold and hateful heart he had. … He hadn’t come to the Bible study to hear the good word. He hadn’t come to hear the Lord,” Richardson said in his opening statement.
“He chose to execute nine good, innocent men and women. And he chose to do so out of a callous hatred of the color of their skin.”
Felicia Sanders, a hairstylist and church usher who survived the massacre yet lost her 26-year-old son, testified Wednesday that her fellow parishioners had welcomed Roof into the study session. Rev. Clementa Pinckney, the church’s senior pastor, even invited Roof to take a seat next to him and handed him a Bible.
“I just thought he was coming in to seek the word,” Sanders told the courtroom.
Bible study began with a prayer, she said, and Dylan sat passively, with his head down.
“We stood up, shut our eyes to say a prayer… and a loud sound went off,” she testified. The room got dark. I screamed ‘It’s a gun.’ But by then he had already shot the Rev .Pinckney.”
As bullets zipped across the room, Sanders said she grabbed Camia Terry, her 11-year-old granddaughter, and ducked under a table.
“Be quiet,” she hushed Camia, muzzling her face so tightly she worried she might suffocate her. “Just play dead.”
As Roof told another parishioner he would let her live so she could tell the story of what he had done, her son Tywanza stood up and asked Roof why he was shooting.
“The defendant over there, with his head down, who refuses to look at me right now, told my son, ‘I have to do this because you’re raping our women and y’all are taking over the world,’” Sanders said.
“My son said, ‘You don’t have to do this,. We don’t mean you no harm.’” She paused. “He put five bullets in my son.”
David Bruck, Roof’s court-appointed defense attorney, did not object to the details offered up by the prosecutor and told jurors the defense may not call any witnesses during the guilt phase of the trial. ‘There’s not a great deal of dispute about the facts,” he added.
“You will see a crime that is driven by fear,” he told them. “Where did it come from? Why would someone be so afraid?”
“On what planet does someone have to be to think you could advance a political agenda by attacking these nine people who are the most kind and upstanding …” Bruck continued. “How much sense does this crime make? How does it make any sense at all? And if not, what does that tell you?”
Roof, dressed in a gray-and-white prison jumpsuit, sat still and showed no emotion as the attorneys spoke. Head fixed, he stared impassively at a stack of legal documents.
After an extraordinary legal back-and-forth between Dylann Roof and his attorneys, many in Charleston and across the nation are bracing for an ugly courtroom spectacle in the coming days.
Last week, Roof chose to represent himself during the initial stages of jury selection. Yet on Monday, U.S. District Judge Richard Gergel agreed to Roof’s request to reinstate his legal team for the guilt phase of the trial. Roof still plans to represent himself during the penalty phase, when the jury would decide whether to sentence him to death or life in prison.
Reinstating Roof’s lawyers for the bulk of the trial ends the unsettling prospect that he would personally examine survivors and family members of victims who may testify. Yet it allows the possibility that the 22-year-old may sabotage his sentencing, potentially withholding information about his mental health and encouraging a jury to send him to death row.
“The defendant will not have a lawyer at the guilt phase,” Bruck reminded jurors Wednesday. “For that reason, I need to ask you to pay extremely careful attention to the small things.”
He urged jurors to observe what he said was Roof’s cold and casual demeanor, his stiff body language and his statement to investigators that “I don’t have a best friend.”
“This is going to be hard to sit through, almost unbearable at times,” Bruck told the jury, warning them they would see scenes of violence and death, as well as the grief of family members and survivors “who did not deserve any of this.”
“You are going to feel enormous sympathy, as well you should,” he said. “But you have a job to go deeper, to go beyond the surface and ask questions that no one else is required to ask.”
For many onlookers here and across the country, the facts of the massacre are clear: Several churchgoers witnessed Roof shoot fellow parishioners; prosecutors allege that Roof confessed after he was captured, and even Roof’s attorneys note that their client has consistently offered to plead guilty.
“The sole issue,” they argued in a filing last week, is “whether the federal death penalty will be inflicted.”
In a 33-count indictment, the Department of Justice charged Roof with 12 counts of committing a hate crime against black victims, 12 counts of obstructing the exercise of religion and nine counts of using a firearm to commit murder. It sought the death penalty on the basis that Roof “demonstrated a lack of remorse” and “his animosity towards African Americans played a role in the murders.”
In an online manifesto written before the massacre, Roof used racial slurs to describe African Americans and posted images of himself posing with a Confederate battle flag and a Glock .45-caliber pistol.
If Roof tried to hide any evidence of potential mental illness or emotional disturbance from the jury, legal observers say, he would limit jurors’ ability to fully assess his moral culpability.