CHARLESTON, South Carolina —A federal judge entered not guilty pleas Friday on charges against Dylann Roof, the 21-year-old white man accused of killing nine African-American parishioners at the historic Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal (AME) church in Charleston, South Carolina, last month.
At the arraignment here in U.S. district court, Roof’s lead attorney said Friday that his client wanted to plead guilty but that his legal team could not oblige until knowing whether the government would be pursuing the death penalty.
“Mr. Roof has told us he would like to plead guilty,” David Bruck told the court. “Until we know whether the government is seeking a death penalty, we will not be able to enter a plea of guilty at this time.”
Roof is facing a wide array of charges — including murder, hate crimes, firearms violations and obstructing the practice of religion — for allegedly carrying out the June 17 shooting massacre that left nine African-Americans dead. The victims were in the middle of a Bible study session when they were gunned down.
During Friday’s hearing, the second in which Roof appeared in person following a July 16 hearing in state court, the 21-year-old wore a blue-grey jumpsuit with horizontal stripes and prisoner’s shackles. He appeared generally more groomed, with his hair cut and combed, than he did during the earlier hearing, and spoke just briefly on three occasions.
Asked if he understood that the purpose of the hearing was to advise him of his rights, one of which being that he had the right to remain silent, Roof said “yes” softly. A few minutes later, U.S. Magistrate Judge Bristow Marchant asked if Roof understood he had a right to an attorney. “Yeah,” Roof replied quietly. Later, after Marchant finished detailing the indictment, he asked Bruck whether Roof would waive having the indictment read in full. When Bruck indicated that Roof would waive having the indictment read, Marchant asked, “Mr. Roof, you understand?” Roof said, “Yes.”
After Marchant entered the not guilty plea, four members of the victims’ families addressed the court.
“He has taken the most precious thing in my life, but he will not take my joy,” said Gracyn Doctor, sister of shooting victim Depayne Middleton-Doctor. “Satan will not win, and I pray the Lord has mercy on his soul.”
Following the arraignment, some of the victims’ family members also spoke with reporters. Former North Carolina State Sen. Malcolm Graham, who lost his sister, Cynthia Hurd, during the attack, said the hearing marked “a very good step.”
“The road to justice starts one step at a time, and we took a very good step today,” said Graham as he left the courthouse. During arraignment, he told the court he wanted to give his sister a voice “because she can’t speak for herself.”