Quivering with fear beneath a desk, Jennifer Pinckney and her 6-year-old daughter held each other tight and placed their hands over each other’s mouths.
Silence was essential. A killer was stalking the church basement just outside the office in which they were hiding, firing gunshot after gunshot.
During a break in the rampage, Pinckney heard the killer speak to one of his victims.
“I’m not crazy,” he said, separated from Pinckney by a locked door. “I have to do this.”
Eighteen months later, the killer repeated that same sentiment to a jury considering whether he should be put to death or imprisoned for life as punishment for the massacre of nine worshipers at Emanuel A.M.E. Church on June 17, 2015.
“There’s nothing wrong with me psychologically,” Dylann Roof told a jury Wednesday at his trial at the Charleston Federal Courthouse, where he has elected to serve as his own attorney.
Roof, 22, was convicted in December of 33 charges related to the killings, including firearm crimes, religious obstruction crimes, and hate crimes. Prior to the church massacre, he had published a racist online manifesto and posed in assorted pictures with a gun and Confederate flags.
Since being arrested in North Carolina a day after the shooting in June 2015, Roof confessed to the killings and told police he had hoped to start a “race war” with his actions. Instead the bloodbath spurred South Carolina to remove the Confederate flag from the grounds of its statehouse and inspired numerous vigils around Charleston to promote racial harmony and unity. During Roof’s bond hearing two days after the shooting, several relatives of his victims told him in court they forgave him.
“I will never be able to hold her again, but I forgive you, and have mercy on your soul,” said Nadine Collier, whose mother, Ethel Lance, was killed during the attack.
But while some relatives of victims have expressed forgiveness and are not keen on Roof receiving the death penalty, other relatives and the federal government believe the defendant, who has twice been declared mentally competent to stand trial, should be executed for his crimes.
“The murder of anyone person is horrific…this case is worse,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Nathan Williams told the jury in his own opening statement on Wednesday. “It is worse because it wasn’t just one person…he killed nine people…It is worse because of the reason he killed those people. He killed them because of the color of their skin, because he thought they were less than people.”
Advocating for the death penalty, the government followed the opening statements by calling its first witness, Jennifer Pinckney, widow of the Rev. Clementa Pinckney and one of three adult survivors of the shooting rampage.
After describing how she met her late husband, Jennifer Pinckney testified about the horrors of that evening and how she survived the tragedy in which her husband perished.
Pinckney explained that she and her youngest daughter, Malana, had accompanied the reverend to church that evening. While her husband handled church business and led Bible study in a nearby room in the church basement, Jennifer Pinckney typed on a laptop in the pastor’s study while her daughter watched a cartoon.
Their activities, said Pinckney, were soon interrupted by loud sounds: “Pop, pop, pop.”
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SOURCE: The Daily Beast, Jason Ryan