Dylann Roof Trial Opens With Heartbreaking Testimony

'He is evil. There is no place for him but the pit of hell'
By Rob Quinn,  Newser Staff
Posted Dec 8, 2016 5:17 AM CST
Updated Dec 8, 2016 5:44 AM CST
First Witness Describes Horror of Church Massacre
In this Thursday, June 18, 2015, file photo,Dylann Roof is escorted from the Cleveland County Courthouse in Shelby, NC.   (AP Photo/Chuck Burton, File)

Wednesday was the first day of Dylann Roof's federal death penalty trial, and the first witness delivered testimony so harrowing that many in the courtroom were in tears. Survivor Felicia Sanders told the court that the young white man sat with black parishioners in the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, SC, for 45 minutes before opening fire, the Citizen-Times reports. She said she dove under a table with her 11-year-old granddaughter, and played dead, pressing the girl's face to her body so tightly she briefly thought she had suffocated her. Then, Sanders testified, her injured son, 26-year-old Tywanza Sanders, rose to confront the gunman. She said he asked: "Why are you doing this?" and Roof replied: "I have to do this. You are taking our women and you are taking over the world."

Sanders said her son told the gunman: "You don't have to do this. We mean you no harm." Then, Sanders said, Roof fired five bullets into her son and fled the church. "I watched him take his last breath. I watched my son come into this world. I watched my son leave this life," the distraught mother said before the judge called a recess. When Roof's lawyer asked her if he said he was going to kill himself, Sanders said: "I was counting on that," the New York Times reports. "He is evil. There is no place for him except the pit of hell." If Roof is convicted of the June 2015 attack, the 22-year-old plans to represent himself during the penalty phase of the trial, the AP reports. He will face another death penalty trial in state court next year. The Guardian reports that at the end of opening arguments Wednesday, a sobbing white woman believed to be Roof's mother collapsed. (Read more Dylann Roof stories.)

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