CHARLESTON, S.C.—Dylann Roof’s mother suffered a heart attack not long after prosecutors described how her son planned a cold and calculated killing of nine black church members in a racially motivated attack, the white man’s attorney said in court documents Thursday.
Roof’s mother collapsed and said “I’m sorry” several times on Wednesday as family members and court security came to help her during the opening of her son’s federal death penalty trial. Roof’s attorney mentioned the heart attack in court documents asking for a mistrial, saying a survivor’s testimony was so emotional that “spectators and even court personnel—including members of the prosecution and defense—were crying with her.”
The documents didn’t give the mother’s current condition.
Roof’s attorney argued that the testimony from shooting survivor Felicia Sanders was inappropriate because it contained a statement on what Roof’s sentence should be.
Sanders told jurors about the horror of seeing her son and her aunt shot to death and sheltering with her granddaughter beneath a table. At one point, she looked across the courtroom toward Roof and called him “evil, evil, evil.”
Defense attorney David Bruck asked her on cross-examination whether she remembered Roof saying anything in the aftermath of the shootings.
“He said he was going to kill himself,” she said. “I was counting on that. There’s no place on Earth for him other than the pit of hell.”
U.S. District Judge Richard Gergel denied the mistrial request and said he interpreted Sanders’ testimony as “a religious comment.” He instructed jurors that any decision on guilt or a sentence is up to the jury—not the attorneys or witnesses in the case.
Also Thursday, jurors watched surveillance footage of Roof leaving a Charleston church with a gun in his hand. Charleston police Sgt. Dan English showed the jury more than 20 video clips taken from cameras at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal church on June 17, 2015.
The clips showed many of the victims and Roof entering the church. Roof is seen leaving the church 52 minutes later, and a final clip taken about 25 minutes after that showed one of the victims carried out on a stretcher.
Roof is charged with 33 federal counts, including hate crimes in the case. He sat again Thursday just staring down at the defense table. But instead of the striped prison jumpsuit he had worn during previous court appearances, he was wearing a gray sweater and light-colored slacks.
A state investigator who responded to the church testified that she found a chaotic scene with Bibles, victims and bullets everywhere.
“My initial response was it was very hectic. We had multiple victims,” said Britany Burke, who worked for the South Carolina State Law Enforcement Division at the time and now works for the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation.
She said there were cartridges throughout the basement room where the shooting occurred during a Bible study. “That’s indicative of someone moving as they are shooting,” she said.
The defense has said Roof is willing to plead guilty if the death penalty is taken off the table. They have made a similar offer in state court where Roof is charged with nine counts of murder and faces another death penalty trial next year.