Friday 6 December 2019

'Instead of a heart, you have a cold dark space' Charleston Church shooting families confront gunman in court

Dylann Roof has been sentenced to death for shooting dead nine black people in a church (AP/Chuck Burton)
Dylann Roof has been sentenced to death for shooting dead nine black people in a church (AP/Chuck Burton)
Dylann Roof (AP)
Mass murderer Dylann Roof Picture: Getty

Jeffrey Collins

The families of the nine people killed in the Charleston church shooting have confronted gunman Dylann Roof, with one of them shouting at the condemned killer during his formal sentencing hearing.

An aunt of 26-year-old Tywanza Sanders, the youngest victim killed during the 2015 massacre at a black church, demanded that the avowed white supremacist looked at her as she talked about her nephew's "great big heart" that could not be donated because of the investigation.

"Dylann," Janet Scott said quietly as she started speaking. She then repeated his name more loudly, and then again in a shout.

Towards the end of her remarks, she said: "I wish you would look at me, boy."

Roof, 22, did not look up as more than a dozen relatives spoke. Instead, he gazed ahead, his head tilted downwards.

A jury sentenced an unrepentant Roof to death on Tuesday.

He had had one final opportunity to ask for mercy with a life sentence, but he instead told jurors he still "felt like I had to do it".

Family members of the victims gave evidence at Roof's trial, but the sentencing hearing gave them a chance to speak directly to the killer.

US District Judge Richard Gergel will formally sentence Roof later on Wednesday.

Felicia Sanders, who survived the shooting, said she forgives Roof, echoing comments she made at the time. But she noted Roof has done nothing to save himself.

Ms Sanders had with her the bullet-torn, blood-stained Bible she used on the night of the massacre on June 17, 2015.

She told Roof he still lives in her head, and that when she hears a balloon pop or fireworks it returns her to that night.

"Most importantly, I can't shut my eyes to pray," she said.

Roof sat through a 45-minute Bible study at Mother Emanuel with 12 others before he opened fire as they stood and closed their eyes for a final prayer.

He fired 77 shots, and each victim was hit at least five times.

Three people survived, and Roof told one of them he was sparing her life so she could tell the world he was killing the worshippers at Emanuel AME because he hated black people.

The willingness of some of the relatives to forgive dominated the news in the days after the killings. But that did not mean they felt his life should be spared - and there are others who said forgiveness is still a work in progress.

"You are Satan. Instead of a heart, you have a cold dark space," said Gracyn Doctor, the daughter of DePayne Middleton-Doctor.

"Hopefully you will go straight to hell because he can't stand to look at you," she added.

Roof told FBI agents when they arrested him that he wanted the shootings to bring back segregation or perhaps start a race war.

Instead, they had a unifying effect as South Carolina removed the Confederate flag from its Statehouse for the first time in more than 50 years.

Other states followed suit, taking down Confederate banners and monuments. Roof had posed with the flag in photos.

The jury convicted Roof last month of all 33 federal charges he faced, including hate crimes. He never explained his actions to jurors, saying only that "anyone who hates anything in their mind has a good reason for it".

As he was formally sentenced to death, Roof showed no emotion.

He chose not to speak during Wednesday's proceedings, and kept a blank face as Judge Gergel sentenced him.

PA Media

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