The families of those killed in the 2015 racial hate-driven massacre at Emanuel A.M.E. Church will be spared the anguish of further court proceedings as convicted killer Dylann Roof says he will plead guilty to state murder charges at a hearing on April 10, eliminating the possibility of a second death penalty trial.
Roof, 23, was convicted in January on 33 federal charges in the shooting deaths of nine worshippers who had come to the Charleston, S.C., church for an evening bible study. Prosecutors were pursuing the death penalty on the state charges, but that trial had been on hold while the federal trial proceeded.
In a letter to the families of Roof’s victims, obtained by the Charleston Post and Courier, prosecutor Scarlett Wilson said she would be accepting the guilty plea from Roof. The plea on all of his state charges, including nine counts of murder, comes in exchange for a sentence of life in prison, according to the Associated Press.
“I write with great news that the State’s case is ready to wrap up,” she wrote. “As I told you towards the end of trial and in other updates, at this point our goal is to provide an insurance policy to the federal conviction and sentence. The most effective way to do that is to secure a guilty plea for a life sentence and get the defendant into federal custody.”
She told the newspaper that the guilty plea removes the death penalty as an option in the state’s case against roof. It automatically gives a Roof a sentence of life in prison on the state level and enables him to be moved to the charge of federal authorities. “The goal is to get him into federal custody so their sentence can be imposed,” she said.
Relatives of the victims expressed relief that they would not have to go through another trial and relive the deaths of their loved ones through testimony.
“I totally appreciated that,” Rev. Sharon Risher, whose mother, Ethel Lance, died in the shooting, told the Post and Courier. “I’m feeling glad we don’t have to endure another trial. I believe in my heart that this is the right thing to do. He won’t ever be able to step outside again. He won’t ever feel the sun on his skin again.”
Andy Savage, an attorney who represents many of the survivors and victims families said they were all satisfied with the end of the state’s case. “They’re all pleased,” Savage told the Post and Courier. “The great thing is, they don’t have to worry. It’s a great insurance policy. It’s what they’ve been hoping for.”
With state charges out of the way, Roof will be transferred from the Charleston County jail and most likely be moved to a federal faciilty in Terre Haute, Ind., where people sentenced to capital punishment in federal trials are executed. It is unclear exactly when he would be executed because appeals processes for Roof have yet to be announced.