Dylann Roof sentenced on state charges after guilty pleas in Charleston church shooting
CHARLESTON, SC (WCSC) - A state judge sentenced Dylann Roof on 13 state counts in the June 2015 Charleston church shooting Monday afternoon.
Dylann Roof, 23, was sentenced to life without the possibility of parole on each of nine murder counts, each term to be served consecutively; and a consecutive 30-year prison term on each of three attempted murder counts.
Roof pleaded guilty to the charges after Circuit Judge J.C. Nicholson listed them and interviewed Roof about his background, mental health and competency status, and whether he understood the charges and the implications of pleading guilty.
Solicitor Scarlett Wilson then went through the facts the prosecution would have presented had the case gone to trial. After conferring with his attorneys, Roof told the court he agreed with the facts as Wilson had presented them, one of the final steps in the process before the judge handed down the sentence.
Mother Emanuel AME Church Pastor Eric Manning addressed the court before sentencing, telling the court the church continues to be "a cornerstone within the community," but said church members still struggle with memories of the event, saying they visit the scene of the crime every day.
"We worship where nine lives were taken and five survivors' lives changed forever," he said.
Manning said many worshipers are still having challenges coming to the church, but he said the church community stood strong.
"Mr. Roof, your senseless actions did not work," Manning said. "Racism did not prevail, hatred did not reign."
State Sen. Gerald Malloy, a friend of State Sen. and the Rev. Clementa Pinckney, also addressed the court, reading a Bible verse.
"All things work together for good to them that love God."
"This situation has tested our faith in every way possible," Melvin Graham, the brother of victim Cynthia Graham-Hurd, said. "I hear families of other tragedies, say words that have become so famous now... I forgive you."
Graham read an email Graham-Hurd sent her sister earlier in 2015 to console her sister on the loss of their parents.
"Death is not forever - you will have a chance to be reunited one day," Graham-Hurd wrote.
Bondell Gadsden, the sister of Myra Thompson, spoke to Roof directly, said her heart still goes out to him in hope he would repent to save himself from himself.
The sister of Susie Jackson, the oldest victim of the massacre, told the court she felt Roof deserved death.
The daughter of Ethyl Lance told Roof she forgave him at his bond hearing and says she still does.
"He came here to start a battle, but I win the war," she said. She said she was wearing white to represent a new chapter in her life that she will not reopen.
"Have mercy on your soul," she said.
Roof's grandfather, Joe Roof, also spoke to the court after the victims' impact statements.
"I would want everyone to understand that nothing is 'all bad,' and Dylann is not all bad," he said. "What happened here, I will never understand. I will go to my grave never understanding. I know that I've lost the grandson I've loved very much."
The senior Roof told the court Roof's family has been "distressed and just sick" over what happened, adding that he and his wife pray for the families every night.
"We're sorry. We're just as sorry as we can be that this happened," he said.
After the sentencing, victims' family members and prosecutors spoke to the media.
Wilson said she felt it was better to rely on the federal government to execute Roof because South Carolina does not currently have the drug required to carry out a lethal injection.
Myra Thompson's daughter, Denise Quarles, issued a statement to the public after Monday's hearing:
Thank you to everyone who continues to show concern for me and my family. At this time, my focus is not Dylan Roof. I am focused on moving forward with my life as my mother would want me to. My mother has laid a foundation with me that remains even in death. She taught me to trust in God since I was a child and that is what I will continue to do. No one or nothing that happens can change that.
The guilty pleas were part of an agreement with prosecutors on the state level to avoid the death penalty, although he was sentenced to death on federal charges in January.
As part of the plea, Roof is expected to receive a mandatory life sentence without parole on each murder charge.
Authorities say Roof sat with the black parishioners in Bible study before opening fire in an effort to start a war between races.
The shooting claimed the lives of Pinckney, 41, and parishioners Cynthia Hurd, 54; Rev. Sharonda Coleman-Singleton, 45; Tywanza Sanders, 26; Ethel Lance, 70; Susie Jackson, 87; Depayne Middleton Doctor, 49; Rev. Daniel Simmons, 74; and Myra Thompson, 59.
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