By BosNewsLife Americas Service with reports from Charleston
CHARLESTON, USA (BosNewsLife)-- A jury on Thursday, December 15, found avowed white supremacist Dylann Roof guilty of killing nine black parishioners last year when he opened fire during an apparently long-planned assault at a historic church in Charleston, South Carolina.
Jurors said Roof, 22, was guilty of federal hate crimes resulting in the deaths of the churchgoers as well as firearms violations and obstructing the exercise of religion for those he shot and killed during a Bible study at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church on June 17, 2015.
The verdict came a day after q survivor of last year's massacre recalled in federal court how Roof spared her life, telling her he needed her "to tell the story." Polly Sheppard recalled how she dove under a table as shots rang out at the church during prayers at end of the Bible study session.
When Sheppard opened her eyes, Roof's boots were in her line of sight, she told the jury hearing the federal death penalty case in South Carolina. "Did I shoot you yet?" Roof asked, according to Sheppard. "No," she replied. "I'm not going to. I need you to tell the story," Roof reportedly said.
One victim, Tywanza Sanders, recorded a few moments on his cellphone and posted the video to Snapchat before the tragedy unfolded. That was when the congregants closed their eyes for payer. The staccato report of gunfire echoed through the ground-floor fellowship hall, survivors recalled.
When the congregants looked up, they saw Roof holding a Glock .45 caliber semiautomatic pistol he had bought about two months earlier and concealed in a pack on his waist. Roof kept firing, emptying magazine after magazine, and striking the victims at least 60 times, reports said.
Media saw a crime scene photo showing one of the tables bearing an opened Bible, a folded study sheet and an empty magazine.
Among those who died was the pastor, Rev. Clementa C. Pinckney. He was 43 days shy of his 42nd birthday when he welcomed the young white stranger into the Bible study on June 17 where he was speaking about the parable of the sower.
An hour later, the gunman had massacred the pastor and eight other worshipers in a bloody declaration of racial warfare. "In a shocking instant, Mr. Pinckney joined the pantheon of American leaders who have been cut down before fulfilling their potential," commented The New York Times news paper at the time.
On Thursday, December 15, reporters noted that the 12 jurors deliberated for a little less than two hours and that Roof showed no emotion as the verdicts were read.
The guilty verdicts on all 33 federal charges he faced pave the way for the penalty phase of Roof's trial, which is set to begin on January 3. He has made clear he want to serve as his own lawyer as prosecutors pursue a death sentence. Not all Christians agree with capital punishment, with some saying it takes away the opportunity for sinners to show repentance and receive grace from Christ. Others view the death penalty as justice served in some instances.
And, reaction to the verdict was swift with Governor Nikki R. Haley of South Carolina saying: “It is my hope that the survivors, the families and the people of South Carolina can find some peace in the fact that justice has been served.”
The case has underscored concerns about widely available weapons in the United States as well as several attacks against churches.
Yet, it was also seen as one of the most serious racial attacks in decades, and it crushed the notion of a post-racial America that some had hoped for following the election of the country’s first black president.
Fears of street violence eased when family members of five victims appeared at Roof’s bond hearing less than 48 hours after the killings and expressed forgiveness for the accused. President Barack Obama flew to Charleston for Pinckney’s memorial service and delivered a eulogy in the form of an indignant and sorrowful meditation on race.