Charleston church shooting suspect pleads not guilty to federal hate crime charges

Updated: Jul. 31, 2015 at 6:39 PM EDT
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Sketch of Dylann Roof in federal court. (Image Source: Jerry McJunkins)
Sketch of Dylann Roof in federal court. (Image Source: Jerry McJunkins)

CHARLESTON, SC (WCSC) - Dylann Roof, suspected gunman in the Mother Emanuel AME Church shooting, pleaded not guilty to  federal hate crime charges at federal court for a formal reading of the criminal charges against him.

Dylann Roof was arraigned on 33 federal charges at the U.S. Court House in Charleston.

Roof's attorney David Bruck said Roof was ready to plead guilty, but changed the plea because they do not yet know whether federal prosecutors will seek the death penalty. They say Roof intends to enter a guilty plea once he knows whether he's facing the death penalty.

In addition to Bruck, Roof is being represented by Charleston attorney Michael O'Connell, a former federal public defender.

Family members of the victims of the shooting were in the courtroom and addressed the court, saying they were speaking for people who no longer had a voice, and they asked for justice to be served.

Roof was quiet in court, responding with a quick "Yes" when the judge asked if he understood the charges and again when asked if he wanted Bruck and O'Connell to defend him.

After the roughly 15-minute hearing, the judge set Aug. 21 as the date for pre-trial motions and handed the trial over to Federal Judge Richard Gergel.

After the arraignment, the interim pastor of the church spoke briefly with reporters.

"The process has started, and most certainly we are going to monitor it," the Rev. Norvel Goff said. "This is a long journey, but most certainly we are committed to the task to make sure justice is done."

Goff is serving as interim pastor until a new pastor is named. State Sen. and the Rev. Clementa Pinckney, the former pastor of Mother Emanuel AME, was one of the nine gunned down in the incident in which Roof is charged.

"The road to justice starts today and it's a step at a time, so we're taking it another step today and hopefully that will lead to a verdict that's meaningful for all families," Malcolm Graham said. Graham is the brother of victim Cynthia Hurd.

"What we want is justice to be mighty and fair, so we're watching," AME church member Eduardo Curry said.

Gracyn Doctor, the daughter of victim Rev. DePayne Middleton Doctor, told the judge even though Roof allegedly took the most precious thing in her life, he will not take her joy.

Doctor also spoke briefly outside of court.

"I just hope justice is done," she said.

U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch announced on July 22 a federal grand jury in Charleston indicted Roof on 33 federal hate crime and weapons charges, bringing the total number of charges against him to 46.

Attorney Wilbur Johnson, who represents the families of the Emanuel 9 arrived shortly before 9:30 a.m. for the hearing.

Attorney Stephen Schmutz, a representative for the Singleton and Hurd families, stated the families trust in the system.

"Obviously it's an anxious situation. They're going to follow it step by step until it is complete," Schmutz said.

The arraignment was delayed from its originally scheduled time on Monday following requests from both the government and Roof's defense attorneys.

View the federal indictment against Roof here:

"As set forth in the indictment, several months prior to the tragic events of June 17, Roof conceived of his goal of increasing racial tensions throughout the nation and seeking retribution for perceived wrongs he believed African Americans had committed against white people," Lynch said at the news conference on July 22.

Roof previously faced a judge on July 16 to be presented with the charges against him. Judge J.C. Nicholson set a trial date of July 11, 2016.

In addition to Pinckney, the other victims of the shooting were Tywanza Sanders, the Revs. Sharonda Singleton, DePayne Middleton Doctor, and Daniel Simmons Sr.; and Cynthia Hurd, Myra Thompson, Ethel Lance, and Susie Jackson.

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