In Charleston, S.C., federal court Thursday, a jury got a look inside Emanuel AME Church in the aftermath of last year’s mass shooting that left nine black worshippers dead. They were gunned down during Wednesday Bible study as they bowed their heads for the closing prayer. Prosecutors say Dylann Roof, a self-avowed white supremacist, targeted the historic church to start a race war.
Testimony from crime scene investigators involved graphic, bloody photos, including a panoramic view of the church basement.
It was the most unnatural scene. A fellowship hall set up as if for Sunday supper: tables draped in white linen, an organ in the corner. Notes and Bibles, some still open, on tabletops. But on the floor, bodies of the victims and pools of blood. Spent gun magazines and cartridge cases strewn about. Bullet holes through chairs, and tablecloths, in the floor and through the church walls.
There was so much to document, investigator Britany Burke testified, that officials ran out of evidence markers and had to use index cards to finish the job. They found seven magazines, and 74 casings. The medical examiner collected 54 bullets or fragments from the nine victims, she said.
Prosecutors also played surveillance video of Roof going into the church and coming out about 50 minutes later with a gun in his hand.
Earlier the judge rejected a defense motion for a mistrial based on a survivor’s testimony that Roof was evil and belonged in “the pit of hell.” The mistrial motion said Roof’s mother suffered a heart attack after being in the courtroom for the emotional testimony yesterday. She collapsed sitting on the wooden pew behind her son.
Throughout the proceedings, Roof has stared straight ahead, expressionless, not watching witnesses or lawyers. He faces the death penalty on 33 charges including hate crimes and obstruction of religion.
Defense lawyer David Bruck said he didn’t dispute that his client committed these heinous crimes but asked the jury to consider why the 22-year-old white man was so motivated by racial hatred.
On Friday, the jury will get to hear what Roof told FBI agents about the crime, when prosecutors show his nearly two-hour videotaped confession.