Testimony Concludes After Jury Hears Survivor In Dylann Roof Trial

Dec 14, 2016
Originally published on December 14, 2016 10:27 pm
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ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

Testimony is now over in the federal hate crimes trial of Dylann Roof. Prosecutors say Roof, a 22-year-old white man, targeted the Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, S.C. Nine black worshipers were killed in that attack last year. Roof's goal, prosecutors say, was to start a race war. And the government rested its case today. Roof's lawyers presented no defense.

NPR's Debbie Elliott has been covering the trial and joins us now from Charleston. And Debbie, the federal government's last witness today was a witness who survived the attack. What did she say?

DEBBIE ELLIOTT, BYLINE: It was Polly Sheppard. She's a 72-year-old retired nurse, and she was preparing to give the benediction after Bible study that night when the shooting started. She testified that she was taking cover under a table. She was praying out loud when Roof walked over and told her to shut up.

She said he asked if he had shot her yet, and when she said no, he replied, quote, "I'm not going to. I'm going to let you live to tell the story." Now, this was pretty emotional testimony. Some of the jurors wiped their eyes as she was testifying.

She says she grabbed a flip phone that had fallen to the ground to call 911, and prosecutors played part of that chilling recording today in the courtroom. And you could hear her telling the dispatcher that she was afraid, and she describes the young white dude who's still in the church and reloading as she pleads for help and help now.

SIEGEL: Prosecutors have spent about a week now presenting testimony and evidence. How have they laid out the case against Roof?

ELLIOTT: Well, obviously the most powerful testimony coming from two of the survivors who gave their eyewitness accounts of the massacre - Polly Sheppard today, and then last week we heard from Felicia Sanders. She was the opening witness and described watching, you know, both her son and aunt get killed, both of these witnesses pointing to the defendant, Dylann Roof, in the courtroom as the shooter.

And then prosecutors have used Dylann Roof's own words. His videotaped confession that he gave the FBI was played in court. In it, he says, I did it; I killed them. At one point, he says, I'm guilty; we all know I'm guilty. And he almost chuckles about it. They also used his writings and photographs he had taken of himself, including a white supremacist manifesto where he describes wanting to start a race war.

SIEGEL: And what about his defense? Why didn't his lawyer call any witnesses today?

ELLIOTT: Well, you know, his defense lawyer has almost conceded that Dylann Roof has done this crime. When it was time for the defense case, Attorney David Brock just stood up and said defense rests. There was very little cross-examination throughout this trial.

And I think what has happened is he really wanted to get in some information about Dylann Roof's mental state, but the judge has shut him down at every turn. That is not going to be admissible until Roof is found guilty - if he's found guilty. And then he'll go on to a phase where they'll decide if he's going to get a life sentence or if he's going to get the death penalty.

SIEGEL: That's NPR's Debbie Elliott in Charleston, S.C. Thanks, Deb.

ELLIOTT: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.