The trial of Dylann Roof, a man charged with the murder of nine African-American parishioners at a South Carolina church, is off to a dramatic start.
On June 17, 2015, Roof allegedly gunned down nine people who had welcomed him into their bible study at the Mother Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church, The Washington Post reports. Among the slain was former Democratic state Sen. Clementa Pinckney, a reverend at the church.
Roof's trial began on Dec. 7, with 22-year-old Roof represented by attorney David Bruck. The prosecution is headed by U.S. attorney Jay Richardson, who began his opening statement by describing the nine parishioners that Roof had allegedly murdered.
Richardson stated that Roof had participated in the group’s bible study for 30 minutes before he began gunning down them with a Glock .45-caliber handgun.
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"Little did they know what a cold and hateful heart he had," Richardson said of the parishioners.
Richardson asserted to the jury that Roof's actions had been premeditated and were motivated by the desire to spark a war between races.
"It was done with malice in his heart … racist retribution for perceived offenses against the white race," Richardson said before the court.
In the defense's opening statement, Bruck told the jury he expected them to find Roof guilty, but urged them to give his client life in prison instead of the death penalty.
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The first witness to take the stand was survivor Felicia Sanders, whose son Tywanza was killed during the massacre. Sanders had tears in her eyes as she recalled how her son attempted to defend retired nurse Polly Sheppard as Roof stood over her.
"The defendant over there, with his head hanging down, refusing to look at me right now, said, 'I have to do this because y'all are raping our women and taking over the world,'" Sanders said. "That's when he put about five bullets in my son."
Sanders' testimony reportedly brought the courtroom sketch artist to tears.
The first day of Roof's trial was punctuated by a health emergency when his mother, Amy Roof, collapsed during the prosecution's opening statement. The defense later confirmed that Mrs. Roof had suffered a heart attack, New York Daily News reports.
On Dec. 9, a video confession by Roof to the FBI was played before the jury. In the footage, Roof admitted that he was guilty of the crime.
"I went to that church in Charleston and I did it," Roof said in the video, according to NBC News.
The defendant added that he considered himself a white supremacist and stated, "We all know I'm guilty."
In the video, the FBI asked if he could recall how many people he had killed. He believed the number was five, and was reportedly surprised to hear that the death count was actually nine.
When asked how this made him feel, Roof replied, "Well, it makes me feel bad."
Roof has been charged with 33 counts of federal hate crimes, and he could face the death penalty under South Carolina law, The Washington Post reports.