Wife, friends of Pinckney take stand as jurors ponder life or death for Dylann Roof

Emanuel AME Church shooting victims
Emanuel AME Church shooting victims
Dylann Roof represents himself in court. (Source: Robert Maniscalco)
Dylann Roof represents himself in court. (Source: Robert Maniscalco)

CHARLESTON, SC (WCSC) - The widow and friends of the pastor killed in the Charleston church shooting took the stand in the first day of the penalty phase in the trial of the man accused of killing him and eight others.

A jury will decide whether Dylann Roof, convicted in the June 17, 2015, killings at Emanuel AME Church, will face life without parole or the death penalty.

Jennifer Pinckney, widow of State Sen. and the Rev. Clementa Pinckney described him as a family man who started preaching at a young age and loved to wear uniquely-patterned socks.

He mostly wore slacks when they first met, but she said she eventually got him into wearing jeans and following football. While Clementa Pinckney — who started leading his first church at 18 — eventually became a senator, "he always made time for the family and he always made time for the girls," Jennifer said.

The pastor's widow testified she was in a church secretary's office with their daughter when she heard gunshots, and said she locked the door and shoved her daughter under a desk and put her hand over her daughter's mouth, ordering her to remain quiet. The jury heard a recording of the 911 call she made, in which she whispered to dispatchers, fearing the shooter would hear her.

Roof, who is representing himself, made no objections as photos of Pinckney were introduced as evidence. Pinckney was on the stand for more than two hours.

A lifelong friend of Pinckney, the Rev. Kylon Middleton, also took the stand, testifying his friend never forgot his roots and always worked to make conditions better for his congregations. Middleton also said Pinckney viewed his public service as an elected official the same way.

State Sen. Gerald Malloy, a colleague of Pinckney, testified Wednesday that Pinckney was "the future of the Senate" and got so much done it seemed he had more hours in the day than other people.

Prosecutors played a video showing Pinckney standing at the pulpit of Emanuel AME Church, talking about the church's history and place in the community.

Roof has not cross-examined any witnesses.

The prosecution is expected to call more than 35 witnesses.

Before Christmas, a jury convicted the 22-year-old of 33 charges including hate crime and obstruction of religion in the shootings. Jurors will now choose between sentences of life in prison or death.

Roof said he does not plan to call any witnesses or submit evidence for his case. He has been barred from attempting to approach the jury, the witness stand or the bench.

Roof: "I'm not going to lie to you" 

After prosecutors spoke Wednesday morning, Roof presented his own brief opening statement, telling jurors, "I'm not going to lie to you," and insisting there is nothing wrong with his mental health. Roof said he chose to represent himself for the penalty phase because he did not want his lawyers talking about the mental health issue. He also said his attorneys, now classified as standby counsel, "forced" him to undergo two competency examinations, the most recent of which took place over New Year's weekend.

Prosecutor Nathan Williams warned jurors testimony from victims' family members over the next few days would be difficult to hear and spoke briefly of the victims killed in the June 17, 2015, shooting. Williams said evidence will show Roof has no remorse and read from a note he said Roof wrote while in prison that read, "It was worth it." But he said a note of apology Roof penned to his mother in which he acknowledged there would be repercussions for his family demonstrates he is capable of remorse.

Prosecutors will try to prove aggravating factors, things that seem to worsen the crime of which Roof has been convicted, in the sentencing phase of the trial. Those factors are that Roof incited violence, that his actions had an impact on the victims' families, that he endangered the safety of others, that what he was doing was racially-motivated, and that he has a lack of remorse.

Roof will try to prove mitigating factors, things that seem to lessen the crimes committed. Some of those include Roof having no prior record of violence, that he was just 21 years old at the time of the shootings, that he offered to plead guilty in exchange for a life sentence and that he cooperated with authorities.

Copyright 2017 WCSC. The Associated Press contributed to this report. All Rights Reserved.