One week after his 23rd birthday, Dylann Roof pleaded guilty to state murder charges for the shootings at Emanuel AME Church. After being sentenced to death in federal court for hate crime charges, the avowed white nationalist’s final admission of guilt in a Charleston courtroom brings to a close another chapter in the story of the Mother Emanuel killings almost two years after the attack.
As a part of his plea, Roof will receive a life sentence from the state. Ninth Circuit Solicitor Scarlett Wilson told the court Monday that the state’s plea agreement would be the surest way to expedite Roof’s transfer to federal custody and ensure that his execution is carried out.
Prior to accepting the guilty plea, Circuit Judge J.C. Nicholson walked through the circumstances of Roof’s life leading up his attack at Emanuel AME. A high-school dropout who never held down a job for long, Roof developed a hatred for other races online. Shackled at the wrists and ankles, Roof could only lift his right hand waist-high as he was sworn in by Judge Nicholson. Roof answered the judge in a dull murmur throughout Monday’s hearing, assuring the court that he is mentally competent and certain of his fate. He will now wait out the rest of his days in federal prison.
Saved from the pain of reliving the deaths of their loved ones in a second trial, the families and friends of Roof’s victims addressed the court one final time regarding their loss.
“The impact to Mother Emanuel has been far reaching. We visit a crime scene every day,” said Rev. Eric Manning, pastor of Emanuel AME Church. “We worship in a place where nine lives were taken and five survivors’ lives were changed forever — where hatred and evil tried to take out and snuff out the light of Christ. The impact to the families, the survivors, and to the church has been felt throughout the entire congregation.”
Speaking on behalf of the family of Mother Emanuel’s slain pastor, the Rev. Clementa Pinckney, S.C. Sen. Gerald Malloy recounted the life and great potential that was stolen when Pinckney was gunned down. Melvin Graham, brother of shooting victim Cynthia Graham Hurd, said the shooting and subsequent trials had tested his family’s faith in every way possible and he is glad this saga is over.
Recalling an email Hurd sent to her sibling in the months before her death, Hurd left behind a comforting message, writing, “It’s just the sting that goes away — not the memories ... Death is not forever. We will have the opportunity to be reunited one day.”
Nadine Collier, the daughter of shooting victim Ethel Lance, extended forgiveness to Roof during his bond hearing following the shooting. Dressed in all white, Collier addressed Roof one final time during Monday’s hearing.
“You came here to start a battle, but I win the war,” said Collier. “I wore white today to let everybody know the chapter right now in my life today is closed. I will not open that book again. And I just want to say, have mercy on your soul.”
While Roof has refused to express any sign of regret or pain over his actions, his grandfather spoke in court Monday to extend the family’s apologies for Roof’s actions.
“I hope that everyone can understand that nothing is all bad. Dylann is not all bad,” said Joe Roof.
Roof’s grandfather told the court that he could never understand the heinous acts carried out by his grandson. He said that today is likely the last time he will ever see his grandson. And while Joe Roof was pained by what has happened, he acknowledged that the system has worked.
“I just want to say loudly and repeatedly and constantly, we’re sorry. We’re just as sorry as we could be. We regret it,” said Joe Roof. “It’s ruined lives and I cannot put those back together. I’m sorry it happened.”