Dylann Roof, already facing execution for his 2015 shooting rampage at a historically black church that left nine people dead, pleaded guilty Monday to state murder charges in a Charleston, S.C., courtroom.
Roof, shackled and dressed in black and white striped prison garb, responded with yes or no answers to a series of administrative questions from the judge during the brief hearing.
Roof was sentenced to life in prison on the state charges, which included nine murder counts, three attempted murder counts and weapons offenses. His plea wrapped up the state’s prosecution and means families of the victims will be spared the anguish of a second trial. Prosecutor Scarlett Wilson said the deal would serve as an “insurance policy” in case the federal conviction and sentencing hit a snag on appeal.
A few relatives of Roof’s victims spoke briefly to the court. Blondelle Gadsden, sister of Myra Thompson, urged Roof to “accept Christ” and make his final days more peaceful.
“I want to say again to Dylann Roof that, even though we are at a point where death has been the sentence for him, my heart still goes out to him in hopes that he would repent to save himself from himself,” she said.
Roof was 21 years old when he walked into a Bible study group at Emanuel AME Church on June 17, 2015, staying for almost an hour before opening fire. Survivors told police that Roof, who is white, shouted racist epithets during the massacre. Roof told at least one survivor that he was letting her live so she could tell others what happened.
The church’s pastor and a state senator, the Rev. Clementa Pinckney, was among those killed.
Roof fled the scene, but friends and family identified him from surveillance video at the church. A manhunt followed, and the next day police were tipped off after a florist in North Carolina spotted a black Hyundai with South Carolina plates that matched the description of Roof’s car.
Roof testified in federal court that “I felt like I had to do it, and I still feel like I had to do it.” A federal jury convicted him on 33 counts in December, and in January sentenced the self-described white supremacist to death.
Last month, a man who didn’t tell law enforcement that he knew about the massacre plot before the crime was committed and lied to the FBI about it was sentenced to 27 months in prison. Joey Meek, 22, pleaded guilty to lying to authorities and failure to report a crime.