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Forgiveness, compassion shape most messages to condemned shooter Roof in sentencing

Family members of the slain black parishioners of Emanuel AME Church stood before Dylann Roof, the man who orchestrated the attack, and expressed their sorrow and offered sympathy, compassion, and condemnation.

One by one, nearly three dozen in all, they took their place in front of the jury to face Roof, who was sentenced to death on Wednesday. U.S. District Judge Richard Gergel said he was sorry he could not return the slain loved ones, but said the process completed Wednesday would offer a measure of justice. "This trial has produced no winners, only losers. The defendant will now pay for his crimes with his life," he said.

There were offers to pray with him before he is locked away in a prison cell.

"If at any point before you go to prison you want me to come and pray with you, I will do that," said Shiela Capers.

Capers, Cynthia Graham Hurd's sister-in-law, thanked Roof's family for their "kind words" on Tuesday after the jury returned with the death sentence.

The jury, a group of 10 women and two men, levied the maximum sentence for each of the 33 counts Roof faced. Eighteen carried a possible death sentence. He is the first person to be sentenced to death under the country's hate crimes laws.

And there were prayers he spends an eternity in Hell.


Grasyn Doctor, who testified earlier this week, spoke some of the most powerful words of condemnation to Roof.

"The very sight of you makes me sick," she said. "You are Satan himself. You will rot in Hell where you belong."

Gary Washington, speaking through a sign language interpreter, spent several minutes describing his day with Ethel Lance, escorting her to church and then watching as the night sky was filled with red and blue lights of emergency vehicles.

But his message to Roof was a simple one: "To you Dylann, I know you'll be burning in hell."

There was also an abundance of forgiveness, and plenty of advice to find peace through religion.

Felicia Sanders, one of three people who survived the attack that June night, told Roof she came to church with her bullet-torn and blood-stained bible. Sanders, who lost her son Tywanza in the attack as he heroically tried to distract Roof, said the blood reminds her of what Jesus gave for her salvation.

Sanders says since the shooting, thinks like balloons popping and acorns falling from trees give her flashbacks of the sounds of gunfire in the church fellowship hall.

And Sanders said even now, more than 18 months later, she still can't close her eyes in prayer. Roof sat in the church fellowship hall for nearly an hour and only opened fire on the dozen congregants after they closed their eyes in prayer to end the study session.

To Roof she said: "I just see somebody who is lost, who the devil has come back to reclaim. I don't know what to do from here out."

She again offered forgiveness.


But Roof, the avowed white supremacist from the Midlands, never looked their way, whatever the tone and timbre of the message.

"Dylann! DYLANN!" screamed Janet Scott at one point in her remarks. "I wish you would look at me, boy."

Scott, one of Tywanza Sanders' aunts, explained that her nephew was an organ donor whose heart could not go to someone in need because of the shooting and the investigators who would not allow his body to be moved.

Marsha Spencer, a member of the Emanuel church, said she ran away from the courtroom on the first day of jury selection. She was scared, she said, afraid of standing that closely to evil.

"What happened to you, Dylann?" she asked. "What are you? What kind of subhuman miscreant could commit such evil? Your twisted desire to ignite a race war is not original."

He also, in his last chance to do so, did not offer words of regret and remorse for his action.

Like Roof, the events of June 17, 2015 will follow the members of the Emanuel 9 familes through the rest of their lives. Unlike Roof, they were able to emerge from the courthouse Wednesday afternoon with a sense of relief.

"Certainly the sun is shining brightly today and that’s an indication for us that Pinckney is smiling down on us," said Rev. Kylon Middleton, Rev. Clementa Pinckney's oldest and best friend who now cares for Pinckney's widow and two daughters.

"It's a brand new sunset, a brand new day of hope that we can begin to put our lives back together."

Around the corner from the front door of the downtown Charleston courthouse, members of local and national media gathered to hear the family of Rev. Daniel Simmons Sr. speak.


Rose Simmons thanked the judge, the jurors, the U.S. attorneys, and the City of Charleston for their efforts in the case and the overwhelming support that has endured the last 19 months.

Alana Simmons, Rev. Simmons' granddaughter who started a nonprofit in the wake of his death, said with the trial over her efforts would be renewed to spread the group's simple message: hate won't win.

"Now we are looking to expand; we are reaching to get in our communities and into churches and our schools to have those courageous community conversations centered around race and differences and how we can use those differences to unite us," she said.

Outside the church where the massacre took place -- where a small group of parishioners once again gathered for a Wednesday night bible study -- a few people dropped off flowers.

That bible study was led by Rev. Eric Manning, the man who now leads the hurting congregation at Emanuel.

"At times we have made several mistakes, at times we have questioned, but the strength and resiliency of Mother Emanuel persists," Manning said.

"And for you Dylann Roof, I would encourage you with these words I came across a year ago today. It says God finds value in you... because you are you. He would go any distance and pay any price just to possess you."


Family members of the victims said Wednesday afternoon they are not sure what will happen with Roof's state murder trial.

Dan Simmons Jr. said he was happy with the results of the federal trial and didn't see a need for the state to progress.

But that pending decision leaves a big question hanging in the air for Roof, and he sits in a purgatory of sorts. Roof was granted an extension and has until the middle of February to file for a retrial. Meanwhile, he will spend at least a little more time in the Charleston County jail, but how much time depends on the state's prosecutor.

U.S. Attorney Jay Richardson said Wednesday they are still sorting out the details on what will happen next.

If Solicitor Scarlett Wilson decides not to move forward with the state's case, Roof will likely be moved to the federal death row prison in Indiana.

No trial date has been set.

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