CHARLESTON, S.C. (AP) — The state prosecutor in charge of trying Dylann Roof in what authorities have said was the racially motivated killing of nine black people inside of a Charleston church spoke to the families of victims about how Roof should be punished, but said the ultimate decision rested in her hands.
Solicitor Scarlett Wilson said Thursday Roof’s deliberate massacre — autopsies determined each victim was shot multiple times and police said Roof spent nearly an hour at a Wednesday night Bible study before opening fire — required her to seek the most serious punishment the state allows.
“This was the ultimate crime, and justice from our state calls for the ultimate punishment,” Wilson said, reading a three-minute statement outside her Charleston office. She took no questions.
Roof faces state charges including nine murder counts in the June 17 slayings at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church. He is expected in court again on those charges in October.
Wilson acknowledged some victims’ families didn’t want her to seek the death penalty against the 21-year-old Roof. Relatives of shooting victims notably spoke out at Roof’s first court appearance, telling the alleged shooter they forgave him for the shooting and prayed God would have mercy on him. But the prosecutor said forgiveness couldn’t be her only consideration.
“We all agree forgiveness can be an important part of the healing process. But know that forgiveness does not necessarily mean forgoing consequences,” Wilson said.
Roof’s lawyers did not respond to Wilson’s decision.
Roof is charged under U.S. hate crime laws as well, and federal prosecutors haven’t decided if they will also seek the death penalty. Federal authorities have said Roof wrote online of fomenting racial violence and used racial slurs in a personal manuscript in which he decried integration.
But Thursday’s motion in state court doesn’t guarantee the case goes to trial. In a number of other murder cases in South Carolina, solicitors have filed notices to seek the death penalty and used them as bargaining chips to get a defendant to plead guilty in exchange for life in prison. Roof’s lawyers said in federal court July 31 that he would have been willing to plead guilty to the hate crimes charges, but he wanted to wait to see if prosecutors would want to put him to death.
In her filing, Wilson said she intends to present evidence on Roof’s mental state, adult and juvenile criminal record and other conduct, as well as his apparent lack of remorse for the killings. She said she was seeking the death penalty because Roof killed nine people and put others at risk.
Andy Savage, a Charleston attorney who represents some of the survivors and victims’ families, commended Wilson for considering his clients’ thoughts on whether Roof should face death. Some of his clients may oppose the death penalty for religious reasons but also understood the decision was up to the state, Savage said.
“In the big picture, if you see why these people are involved, it’s because they were in a church on a Wednesday evening at Bible study,” Savage said. “They’re not Sunday Christians. They’re 24-7 Christians. They believe in the sanctity of life. They believe in forgiveness. … So for them, to not be proponents of the death penalty is no surprise.”
Ultimately, Savage said, his clients want Roof to be found guilty and punished.
“They want a conviction, and they want this guy to disappear and never to see civilization again,” Savage said. “And hopefully that is because he’s going to have to live in a six-by-nine cell.”
Kinnard reported from Columbia, South Carolina, and can be reached athttp://twitter.com/MegKinnardAP
Follow Jeffrey Collins on Twitter at http://twitter.com/JSCollinsAP .
Copyright 2015 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.