Convicted Charleston, S.C., church gunman Dylann Roof has pleaded guilty to nine state murder charges, leaving him to await execution in a federal prison and sparing his victims and their families a second trial.
He also pleaded guilty to three charges of attempted murder.
The self-avowed white supremacist was unapologetic at his federal trial as he listened to days of testimony from survivors. They described in harrowing detail the hail of bullets that began when parishioners closed their eyes to pray during a June 2015 Bible study at the historically black Emanuel AME Church.
After Monday’s hearing, Roof, 23, will return to a local jail, while technically in the custody of the U.S. Marshals Service, until he’s transferred to a Bureau of Prisons facility “in short order,” a law enforcement official with knowledge of the case told The Associated Press.
The official spoke on a condition of anonymity because he wasn’t authorized to speak publicly about the case.
Roof will be moved to a federal prison in another state, where he will ultimately be put to death on charges of hate crimes and obstruction of the practice of religion.
The deal with prosecutors, who also had been pursuing the death penalty, comes in exchange for a life prison sentence on state charges.
Roof was found guilty late last year of 33 federal charges and sentenced to death during a separate proceeding earlier this year. Relatives of each of the nine people killed attended court each day of his federal trial, some testifying with emotion about the voids created by the losses of their loved ones.
Survivors also spoke in court, evoking chilling images of the bloody Wednesday night tableau. Jennifer Pinckney, the widow of slain pastor and state Senator Clementa Pinckney, brought some jurors to tears with her description of how she shielded her young daughter in her husband’s office as the bullets rang out in the nearby fellowship hall.
During his federal trial, Roof was placid and, at times, unapologetic. Twice found competent to stand trial, Roof fired his defence team for the sentencing portion of his proceedings, calling no witnesses or putting up any evidence of his own.
“I have the right to ask you to give me a life sentence, but I’m not sure what good it would do anyway,” Roof told jurors in his closing argument. “I still feel like I had to do it.”
Through their attorneys, some relatives and survivors spoke out when the state plea arrangement was announced by prosecutors last month. Charleston attorney Andy Savage, who represents several of the families, said the arrangement to transfer Roof to a federal institution and away from Charleston “is the preference of all victims that I represent.”
Felicia Sanders, who watched as both her son and her aunt died in the shootings, summed up her feelings in two words.
“Praise God,” Savage quoted Sanders as saying.
Roof was ordered into the custody of U.S. marshals last week. He has been held at the Sheriff Al Cannon Detention Center in Charleston County.
He is expected to be transferred to the federal prison in Terre Haute, Ind., that holds male death row prisoners, according to the Death Penalty Information Center, a nonprofit group that monitors U.S. capital punishment.
Since 1988, when the federal death penalty was reinstated, 76 defendants in the United States have been sentenced to death and three prisoners have been executed, according to the center’s website.
Roof would become the 62nd current federal death row inmate, and appeals in such cases can take a decade or more, the center’s executive director, Robert Dunham, said in a telephone interview.