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S.C. Church Shooting Trial Moves To Penalty Phase


Now comes the death-penalty phase of a trial in South Carolina. A jury yesterday convicted Dylann Roof of murder. He's the 22-year-old who's called himself a white supremacist and who walked into a Charleston church and killed nine African-American worshippers. NPR's Debbie Elliott has been talking with some of the people who relived that attack in court.

DEBBIE ELLIOTT, BYLINE: Survivors and family members of the victims spent more than a week hearing in brutal detail what happened when Dylann Roof opened fire during a Wednesday-night Bible study just as class members were bowing their heads for a final prayer.

SHARON RISHER: The pain and destruction that happened in that church was nothing I could have ever imagined.

ELLIOTT: Sharon Risher lost her mother, Ethel Lance, in the attack. She says it was important for the jury to go through all of that evidence.

RISHER: I prayed with everything I had that that jury would be able to see that what he did was just so horrific. And even though he confessed, I think they needed to be there to see everything, feel everything that we went through.

ELLIOTT: As difficult as it was, Risher says, the trial answered a lot of questions. And she's relieved by the guilty verdict. The federal jury will return after the holidays to consider whether Roof should be put to death for his crimes. Roof told the judge that he plans to represent himself during that penalty phase of the trial.

The federal government will argue for capital punishment. But the jury could also consider a life sentence. After the federal proceedings, Roof is scheduled to be in state court early next year on murder charges that also carry the possibility of a death sentence.

Joseph Darby is vice president of the Charleston NAACP and a presiding elder in the South Carolina AME church. He says Dylann Roof's disturbing racial hatred could remain in the spotlight for some time to come.

JOSEPH DARBY: That means that those families and Charleston will have to sit through that all over again. You know, the only thing that we can be sure of is that he will most likely, unless he escapes, never see the light of day again. And that's fitting either way.

ELLIOTT: The Emanuel killings shocked people here. That someone would target worshippers in a sacred space was unthinkable in the Holy City, Charleston's nickname. Darby says there's a lesson for the nation.

DARBY: It ought to be a cautionary tale to America that we need to be careful - how we talk to each other, what we see about each other and how we think about each other - because Emanuel did not happen in a vacuum.

ELLIOTT: Sharon Risher agrees and says she hopes the jury will keep that in mind when they decide Dylann Roof's punishment.

RISHER: I want them to be able to send a message for anybody else out there that has an agenda that comes from hate that it won't be tolerated in America.

ELLIOTT: Risher says she's not in favor of the death penalty but says that's not her decision. She'll leave that to the justice system.

Debbie Elliott, NPR News, Charleston. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.