Dylann Roof picked out the gun he used to kill nine black worshipers just eight days after his 21st birthday and traveled to Charleston with a list that included six local black churches, their addresses and hours of operation.
Those were among new details that emerged Monday as prosecutors methodically worked to connect dots among a growing pile of evidence linking Roof to the mass shooting at Emanuel AME Church. The day featured a parade of law enforcement analysts – firearms, fingerprints, computers, crime scenes – whose testimony was designed to conclusively tie Roof to the gun used in the June 2015 massacre and the racist ideology said to have inspired it.
Much of the afternoon's testimony came from FBI agents who focused on a website, lastrhodesian.com, that authorities say Roof, now 22, created to espouse his beliefs about white supremacy to urge his fellow whites to take "drastic action" to protect their culture against perceived threats from blacks. The manifesto mirrored a hand-written diatribe found in a leather-bound journal in Roof's car after the church shooting.
Roof, who earlier chatted and smiled with one of his lawyers, stared down at the defense table expressionless as FBI Special Agent Tracy Sicks read the manifesto in its entirety. Victims' loved ones listened, at times grimacing and exchanging angry glances, as they heard the racist musings.
The words savaged blacks, Jews, Hispanics and others before concluding with an apology for any typos contained in the text. "I didnt have time to check it," the document ended.
That may well be true, given what former Special Agent Amanda Simmons, a computer forensics expert, said she found on a computer seized from Roof's father's home. Files that matched the posted manifesto, along with dozens of trashed photos from the site, were last accessed at 4:45 p.m. June 17, 2015 - about four hours before the shooting, she said. That would have given Roof a tight timeline for driving from Columbia to Charleston to commit the shooting that day.
In other developments, Monday:
- Ballistics tests identified Roof's .45-caliber Glock pistol as the gun used in the church shooting. State Law Enforcement Division forensic firearms analyst James Green testified that Roof's gun fired 74 shell casings and dozens of bullet fragments found at the scene.
- Roof's fingerprints were found on the murder weapon, including one print on the trigger, said Kimberly Mears, a latent prints analyst with SLED.
- In Roof's car, investigators found a list of black churches. Local ones included Emanuel, Morris Brown AME on Morris Street, Calvary Episcopal on Line Street, Central Baptist on Radcliffe Street, Ebenezer AME on Nassau Street and a house of worship on St. Philip Street, the name of which was smeared by water damage to the paper, according to SLED crime scene investigator Brittany Burke.
- One round was chambered in Roof's Glock when police recovered it, and 10 more were in the pistol's magazine. A laser sight device to help with aim was found in the car, as well, along with receipts for the gun and ammunition, a Confederate flag and two American flags, one of which had been burned, Burke said.
- Investigators recovered lists of various South Carolina cities and towns and a set of ratios, Burke said. In his taped confession, Roof indicated that he had been researching the ratio of black to white residents in various communities, and that Charleston, at one point, had the highest. That list also named Denmark Vesey, a class leader at Emanuel who plotted a slave rebellion in Charleston in 1822.
The pistol purchase
During the morning, Ronnie Thrailkill, manager of Shooter's Choice in West Columbia, testified about the process Roof went through to buy a Glock .45-caliber pistol at his store in April 2015.
First, Roof filled out a required form that asks prospective gun buyers if they have any reason not to be eligible to purchase a firearm. Roof checked "no" to the question, "Are you an unlawful user of, or addicted to, marijuana or any depressant, stimulant, narcotic drug, or any other controlled substance?"
However, in February 2015, Roof admitted to police that he possessed the controlled substance Suboxone, a narcotic used to treat opiate addiction, without a prescription. Under federal rules, that admission should have disqualified him from purchasing a gun.
An FBI background check examiner missed the arrest, so for three days his application to buy the Glock lingered. When the three-day window to receive a response from the background system passed, Roof showed back up at Shooter's Choice. On April 16, he walked out with the gun and three magazines, went briefly to his car, then returned with cash to buy two more magazines. On April 27, he went back to the store and bought three more magazines, bringing his total to eight - each capable of holding 13 rounds, Thrailkill said.
"If there's nothing, the law allows dealers to transfer that gun to the potential buyer," Thrailkill testified as to how the process unfolds. "That's standard practice."
Less than a month after the massacre, FBI Director James Comey publicly admitted failures in completing Roof’s background check within the three-day time limit. He blamed incomplete and inaccurate paperwork.
On June 29 — nearly two weeks after the shooting— Thrailkill said he received a response from the federal background check agency telling him to deny the gun sale to Roof. They did not give him a reason for the denial, he said.
Relatives of the nine Emanuel AME Church shooting victims have since filed multiple wrongful death lawsuits against the federal government over clerical errors that allowed Roof to purchase the gun used in the killings. The five survivors have filed similar complaints.
Last week, prosecutors traced the white supremacist's steps from the moments he walked into Emanuel AME, entering the only door with a security camera trained on it, as 12 worshipers gathered for their weekly Bible study. A survivor described for jurors the horrific moments when Roof stood as the group shut their eyes for closing prayer and gunned down nine people before fleeing into the summer night.
Police arrested Roof in North Carolina the next morning, where he quickly confessed to the crime. Jurors heard Roof's two-hour confession, when he described in shockingly matter-of-fact terms how he targeted blacks when he killed the nine victims, mostly middle-aged and older women who cowered beneath tables amid a barrage of 77 hollow-point bullets.
Jurors also heard from a woman who survived the onslaught in the church's fellowship hall. Felicia Sanders, whose son and elderly aunt both were killed, detailed the moments when Roof opened fire. Her son, Tywanza, pleaded, "We mean you no harm," before Roof shot him several more times, she said.
During her testimony, sobs filled the gallery, and she blasted Roof as "evil" and chastised him for lacking the courage to look at her.
U.S. District Judge Richard Gergel has not yet addressed a defense motion filed late Sunday asking him to take several corrective measures regarding his decision to allow Sanders' testimony calling Roof "evil" and adding "there's no place on Earth for him except the pit of hell.”
Defense attorneys also want Gergel to publicly withdraw his comments from last week indicating that he thought lead defense attorney David Bruck elicited Sanders' words to provoke a mistrial.
The comments encourage future prosecution witnesses, who heard them spoken in court, "to replicate such testimony, and to treat cross-examination by defense counsel as a dishonest and cynical exercise in manipulation," the motion contends. Gergel's statements also "needlessly strained the already-fraught relationship between defense counsel and our client," the motion adds.
Defense attorneys and Roof have gone back and forth over his representation in recent weeks. Roof initially indicated that he wanted to represent himself, only to change course and bring his legal team back for the guilt phase of trial. He still is set to serve as his own attorney for the penalty phase.
Prosecutors will close this part of their case against Roof with Polly Sheppard, a 71-year-old retired nurse who once worked at the detention center where Roof now is housed. Sheppard hid beneath a table during the shooting, praying aloud until Roof told her to "shut up" and that he would let her live so she could tell the story of what he'd done.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Jay Richardson, the lead prosecutor, said he expects to close the prosecution's case about mid-week. The defense team then gets its turn, although it remains unclear if they will call any witnesses given that attorney Bruck has all but conceded Roof's guilt. Defense attorneys only occasionally cross-examined witnesses last week.
After closing arguments, jurors will consider if Roof is guilty of 33 federal charges, including violations of hate crime laws and religious freedoms.
From there, Gergel has said he likely will break for the winter holidays and reconvene on Jan. 3 to begin the penalty phase of Roof's trial. That is when prosecutors will detail the lives of those killed and the tremendous void their deaths have left on their loved ones in order to show why Roof should die for his crimes.