Suspect Unemotional In Court As Victims’ Families Express Grief, Call On Him To Repent
By Richard A. Serrano, Timothy M. Phelps, and Michael Muskal, Tribune Washington Bureau (TNS)
CHARLESTON, SC — Dylann Roof was ordered held without bail on murder charges in connection with an attack on a black church in Charleston, South Carolina, that left nine African-Americans dead and reopened a national debate about racial violence.
During the dramatic hearing in front of Chief Magistrate James B. Gosnell Jr., Roof, 21, stood in prison togs with his hands behind his back. Two heavily armed officers were behind Roof, who was unemotional as several representatives of the families of those slain expressed their grief and called on him to repent.
“I forgive you and my family forgives you,” said a representative of Myra Thompson, 59, one of those killed in the Wednesday night attack during a Bible class inside the Emanuel AME Church. “Repent and confess and give your life to Christ and change your ways. You’ll be better off than you are now.”
“Every fiber in my body hurts, and I will never be the same,” said Felicia Sanders, the mother of victim Tywanza Sanders. “May God have mercy on you.”
The magistrate noted he does not have the authority to set bond for the murder charges but ordered a $1 million bail on one count of possession of a firearm during a violent crime. The next appearance was set for Oct. 23.
Roof, 21, appeared at the bond hearing via a video link. He is being held in a cell next to the former North Charleston police officer who fatally shot a fleeing, unarmed black man, an incident that had also roiled racial tensions in the region and nation.
Roof has reportedly made statements “tantamount to a confession” in the shooting during a prayer service inside the historic black church, a law enforcement source said earlier Friday.
The federal law enforcement official, speaking anonymously, said he was told that Roof talked to local investigators and described some details about Wednesday night’s shooting. The source has been briefed on the matter but is not permitted to speak publicly because the case is unfolding.
Charles Francis, top spokesman for the Charleston Police Department, said Roof “has been interviewed by our investigators and he has made some statements about what happened” in the church. “Our detectives always interview suspects, and that is what happened here too.”
Francis declined to discuss exactly what Roof told local detectives, but said that it was consistent with the decision by state prosecutors to file the nine murder charges and firearm charge against him.
The racial issue has remained a gnawing presence during the debate after the shooting.
Speaking at a news conference, NAACP national President Cornell William Brooks condemned the shooting as “an act of racial terrorism” and a hate crime that goes against the “conscience and soul of the country.” He condemned state officials for continuing to fly the Confederate flag, an ongoing issue that has worsened race relations in the South.
“We cannot have the Confederate flag at the state Capitol,” Brooks said. The leader of the NAACP criticized those who defended the flag, which represented the Southern states that seceded from the Union over black slavery, leading to the Civil War. It has become a symbol for some white supremacist groups.
“Some say it is a symbol of heritage and not hate,” Brooks said, dismissing those arguments. “That symbol has to come down and that symbol has to be removed.”
Brooks also condemned those who insisted the shooting was the work of a lone wolf, rather than an act of terrorism against all people, especially the African-American community.
“Is the right terminology a lone shooter or is the right terminology a domestic terrorist?” he said. “This was an act of racial terrorism.”
South Carolina Gov. Nikki R. Haley called for Roof to face the death penalty in the shooting, which is being investigated by state and federal authorities as a hate crime.
Roof is the sole suspect in the shooting at the iconic Emanuel AME Church in Charleston. The attack has shocked this Southern city and the nation, already racked by race and police violence issues.
“This is a state that is hurt by the fact that nine people innocently were killed,” Haley said Friday, adding that the state “absolutely will want him to have the death penalty.”
Haley spoke on NBC’s “Today” show and called the shooting “an absolute hate crime.”
“This is the worst hate that I’ve seen — and that the country has seen — in a long time,” she said. “We will fight this, and we will fight this as hard as we can.”
Charleston Mayor Joseph P. Riley Jr. says that although he’s not a proponent of the death penalty, it’s the law in South Carolina and he expects it will be sought against Roof.
“If you are going to have a death penalty, certainly this case would merit it,” he said at a televised news conference.