Convicted mass killer Dylann Roof will plead guilty to state murder charges on April 10, sparing his nine victims' loved ones a second grueling death penalty trial and ensuring he spends the rest of his life in prison.
Roof, 22, was convicted in January of 33 federal charges, including hate crimes, and sentenced to death for killing nine black worshippers at Emanuel AME Church. However, 9th Circuit Solicitor Scarlett Wilson also was pursuing the death penalty for nine state murder charges, proceedings that had been on hold since the end of Roof's federal trial.
She let families of Roof's victims know early Friday she is accepting a guilty plea instead.
"I write with great news that the state’s case is ready to wrap up. As I told you towards the end of trial and in other updates, at this point our goal is to provide an insurance policy to the federal conviction and sentence. The most effective way to do that is to secure a guilty plea for a life sentence and get the defendant into federal custody," Wilson wrote in a letter obtained by The Post and Courier.
Reached Friday, Wilson said the move will take the death penalty off the table in the state case and assist with moving the white supremacist along to federal prison. "The goal is to get him into federal custody so their sentence can be imposed," she said.
She had no further comment on the decision, saying her letter speaks for itself.
After his April 10 plea, Roof likely will be moved from the Charleston County detention center to a federal Bureau of Prisons facility. Male prisoners sentenced to death usually are housed at a prison in Terre Haute, Ind., site of the federal execution chamber.
Loved ones of those killed have waited since the gut-wrenching federal trial's close to find out Wilson's plans. Many don't support the death penalty on religious grounds and several said they didn't want to go through a second trial.
The Rev. Sharon Risher, whose mother died in the shooting, was among them. Wilson called to tell her the news.
"I totally appreciated that," Risher said. "I'm feeling glad we don't have to endure another trial. I believe in my heart that this is the right thing to do. He won't ever be able to step outside again. He won't ever feel the sun on his skin again."
Attorney Andy Savage represents several of the survivors and victims' families. When survivor Felicia Sanders heard the news, she told him: "Praise God!"
"They're all pleased," Savage said. "The great thing is, they don't have to worry. It's a great insurance policy. It's what they've been hoping for."
Under a negotiated plea, Roof will receive a life sentence. At his plea hearing he will be able to address the judge, if he chooses. Loved ones of the nine people he killed also will have that opportunity.
Roof’s attorney in state court, Charleston County Public Defender Ashley Pennington, would say only that the information contained in Wilson’s letter to the families was accurate. He declined to comment on the negotiated plea or the decision to take the death penalty off the table. David Bruck, Roof's lead attorney in the federal case, also declined comment.
Meanwhile, the judge in Roof's federal case is weighing which of the dozens of sealed documents from that trial should be unveiled to the public. Among them are psychiatric evaluations of Roof and transcripts of two closed-door competency hearings that could shed light on the mental state of a young man who killed innocent African Americans in a church to inflame racial tensions.