Charleston church shooter Dylann Roof set to give his opening statement

Dylann Roof, convicted of 33 counts in the Emanuel AME Church shooting, is expected to give an opening statement today to jurors who will decide whether he should be executed or get a life prison sentence. Roof is acting as his own attorney. (CANNON DETENTION CENTER/PROVIDED)

A grand jury on Tuesday indicted Dylann Roof on three attempted murder charges in connection with the two women and one girl who avoided injury during the shooting last month that killed nine others at a historic black church in downtown Charleston.

Roof, 21, had already been arrested on nine murder counts and a charge of using a firearm in a violent crime.

He was indicted Tuesday on the murder charges — a necessary and expected move by authorities that allows the case to move toward trial. But prosecutors and the Charleston Police Department also sought and received the three attempted murder counts when they brought their case to the grand jury, 9th Circuit Solicitor Scarlett Wilson announced later in the day.

The indictments do not identify the attempted murder victims, but The Post and Courier’s interviews with people in touch with them provide insight into their role. They are expected to be key witnesses during the prosecution.

On June 17, the Eastover resident walked into a Bible study at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church on Calhoun Street, investigators said.

Twelve other people were in the room.

After sitting down and listening for an hour, detectives said, he used a .45-caliber pistol to spray bullets around the ground-floor meeting area. Eight people died there, and one more died at a hospital.

Felicia Sanders, whose son was slain during the ordeal, and her granddaughter managed to avoid being targeted by lying on the floor and pretending to be dead.

Polly Sheppard, meanwhile, fell to her knees in prayer. Roof told Sheppard that he would let her live to tell others what happened in the church.

The three survivors were not wounded by gunfire.

Roof was arrested the next day in Shelby, N.C. Police officers found a gun in his back seat.

Federal hate crime charges also are possible as the FBI continues to look into what role Roof’s alleged expressions of white supremacy played into the shooting.

All of the victims were black, and Roof is white.

Federal prosecutors and public defenders already have been assigned in anticipation of a federal case against Roof.

Roof also had confided in friends during bouts of drinking that he longed to carry out mass violence in Charleston and start a race ware, those acquaintances said. Authorities were investigating how much his friends knew of the plot for possible criminal charges.

No further court proceedings have been scheduled on Roof’s state charges.

Wilson, the area’s top prosecutor, said ethical rules prevented her Tuesday from commenting beyond a statement she released to announce the indictments.

“My office cannot comment on the merits of the case,” she said. “By law, defendants are presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty.”

Reach Andrew Knapp at 937-5414 or twitter.com/offlede.