CHARLESTON, S.C. (Reuters) – White supremacist Dylann Roof, condemned to death for the brutal mass shooting at a Charleston, South Carolina, church, heard forgiveness and fury at his sentencing hearing on Wednesday from grieving loved ones of the nine slain black parishioners.
Some victims’ family members called Roof, 22, evil and deserving of the death penalty for the June 17, 2015, attack at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church, the oldest African-American congregation in the U.S. South.
“I want your soul to burn in hell,” said Gayle Jackson, a niece of 87-year-old victim Susie Jackson.
Others said their faith required them to forgive. Those words echoed comments at Roof’s first court appearance after the shooting 19 months ago, where several relatives of victims shocked the country with their merciful tone toward the suspect.
“I wanted to hate you, God, I wanted to hate you, but my faith told me no,” Bethane Middleton Brown, sister of victim DePayne Middleton Doctor, 49, said on Wednesday.
A jury of nine whites and three blacks last month found Roof guilty of 33 federal charges, including hate crimes and obstruction of religion. On Tuesday, the jurors recommended he be put to death.
Wednesday’s sentencing is a formality. Roof, who also faces a death sentence if convicted of state murder charges, is unlikely to be executed any time soon due to a lengthy appeals process.
“I wish they could enact another law to cut off a limb each time you go up to appeal,” said Tyrone Sanders, whose son Tywanza Sanders, 26, died in the shooting.
Clementa Pinckney, 41, the church’s pastor and a state senator; Sharonda Coleman Singleton, 45; Cynthia Hurd, 54; Ethel Lance, 70; Myra Thompson, 59; and Daniel Simmons Sr., 74, also were killed.
Roof represented himself during the penalty phase of his trial and did not argue for his life to be spared.
He refused to look at the family members as they spoke at the sentencing hearing.
Felicia Sanders, 59, witnessed the death of her son and fellow churchgoers who had gathered to study scripture. Holding her blood-stained Bible, she told Roof she no longer felt comfortable closing her eyes to pray after he opened fire while their heads were bowed for a benediction.
“You’re in my head every day,” she said. “Yes I forgave you. That was the easiest thing I had to do. But you can’t help someone who won’t help themselves.”
(Writing by Colleen Jenkins; Editing by Alan Crosby and Andrew Hay)