Court hears account of Roof’s actions before shooting
Charleston, S.C. — Through a dozen witnesses on Tuesday, federal prosecutors reconstructed the activities of Dylann Roof in the months leading up to night he went to a black Charleston church and shot nine members to death during a Bible study session.
Using data from a Garmin GPS found in Roof’s car when he was arrested, Joseph Hamski, the lead FBI agent on the case, testified that Roof left Columbia at 6:13 p.m. on the night of the shootings at Emanuel AME Church, arriving in downtown Charleston an hour and a half later.
At 8:16 p.m., church surveillance images show him walking into the church. By 9:06 p.m., he’s seen walking out, a black gun in his hand.
Roof, who is white, faces 33 federal charges, including hate crimes and obstruction of the practice of religion. Roof’s attorneys have said repeatedly in both federal and state court that their 22-year-old client is willing to plead guilty if capital punishment is taken off the table, a request prosecutors have refused. Roof faces another death penalty trial next year in state court.
Prior to that night, Hamski testified, Roof made multiple trips to Charleston, stopping at plantations in the area and posing for photographs on a beach. Images of Roof’s travels around the Charleston area were shown in court and previously appeared on his website, lastrhodesian.com, along with his racially inflammatory writings and photographs of Roof posing with a Confederate flag. An AT&T employee testified a call was made to the church from Roof’s home in February.
Justin Britt, a Richland County sheriff’s deputy, also testified that Roof’s mother collapsed when authorities came to her home the day after the shootings and started asking questions about her son. After recovering, Britt said Roof’s mother led him to her son’s bedroom, where she showed him a digital camera on which Britt said he saw pictures of Roof with a Confederate flag.
“She said, ‘There’s something that I think you need to see,’ ” Britt testified.
Another officer who helped search the home testified she recovered dozens of spent ammunition rounds, saying relatives told her Roof and others would practice shooting in a nearby wooded area. Kristen Polis also testified she photographed a white pillowcase cut into a triangle because “to me, it represents what could be a Ku Klux Klan hood.”
Prosecutors also played video of Roof practicing shooting his gun at various objects in his backyard and quickly reloading the weapon.
Witness testimony is expected to wrap up Wednesday, with the government calling a medical examiner to discuss details of the victims’ injuries. Assistant U.S. Attorney Jay Richardson opened his case with Felicia Sanders, a survivor of the June 2015 shooting at Charleston’s Emanuel AME Church. He has said he plans to close with testimony of another survivor, Polly Sheppard.
Defense attorney David Bruck, who has previously said he might not call any witnesses, said Tuesday he would likely call some after all.
If Roof is convicted, jurors would decide if he should be sentenced to life in prison or the death penalty. While he has a defense team at the moment, Roof has said he wants to be his own lawyer for the penalty phase.