More raw, grisly testimony expected in Dylann Roof case

Associated Press

Charleston, S.C. — The opening of Dylann Roof’s federal death penalty trial saw raw, emotional testimony from a survivor of the shooting, grisly crime scene images and a catalog of racial hatred from Roof’s videotaped confession and journal.

The trial continues this week in the deaths of nine black people at a Charleston, South Carolina, church. Here’s what has happened and what to expect.

This week’s testimony

In his opening statement, assistant U.S. Attorney Jay Richardson said he would build the case from the church out. So far, he’s reached Roof’s arrest.

Expected to testify this week are agents who searched Roof’s home and his family’s residences. Also expected are experts to analyze what was found.

Richardson said Friday he expects to end his case by Wednesday, although he couldn’t promise.

Roof’s attorney David Bruck has conceded Roof’s guilt and said in his opening statement he plans to call very few, or perhaps no witnesses.

U.S. District Judge Richard Gergel said he will break for Christmas after the guilt phase finishes and reconvene court for the penalty phase on Jan. 3.

Roof’s hatred

Prosecutors have sprinkled it in from a number of sources. But key has been the two-hour confession to the FBI about 17 hours after the shootings and his journal found in his car when he was arrested.

Roof believed segregation needed to return because it kept white people from falling to the level of blacks. It had other bogus claims that whites were naturally the superior race and that blacks liked slavery.

Roof ended this sentence with a racial slur. “Who is fighting for these white people forced by economic circumstances to live among (blacks).”

Emotional week

The trial opened with testimony from Felicia Sanders. She was one of three survivors of the attack, telling the jury she swished her legs in the blood of her dead aunt and dying son so Roof would think she was dead.

Sanders’ 11-year-old granddaughter also survived. Sanders said she held the girl so tight so she wouldn’t scream that she thought she might suffocate her.

Sanders opened her testimony with happy remembrances of the nine fellow Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal parishioners who died. She ended it with controlled anger toward Roof, who never looked at her.

“He said he was going to kill himself,” Sanders said. “I was counting on that. There’s no place on Earth for him other than the pit of hell.”

Meanwhile, Roof’s mother was in the audience for opening statements that included Richardson calling her son a cold and calculated killer. She collapsed as court adjourned for a break, and defense lawyers said she suffered a heart attack.

Focus on sentencing

The focus of the trial is expected to be on the sentencing phase. Before they stepped aside, defense attorneys said numerous times during earlier hearings that Roof was willing to plead guilty if the death penalty was taken off the table. Government prosecutors pursuing the death penalty say Roof talked of starting a race war and posed with the Confederate battle flag before the killings.

Another trial next year

Roof faces a second death-penalty trial early next year in state court, where he faces nine counts of murder. A state judge is ordering 600 prospective jurors to report to the Charleston County Courthouse on Jan. 17 for initial screening. His order says the trial will begin on or after Jan. 30. It’s not clear when the federal case will wrap up. For now, Roof has attorneys representing him in the state case.