CHARLESTON, South Carolina -A federal judge entered not guilty pleas Friday on charges against Dylann Roof, the 21-year-old white man accused of killing nine African-American parishioners at the historic Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal (AME) church in Charleston, South Carolina, last month. His court-appointed lawyer insisted that he refrain from doing so, however, until the federal government decides whether or not it will seek the death penalty against him.
Roof appeared in a gray striped prison jumpsuit, his hands in shackles.
The family members of victims of the 17 June attack also spoke briefly. Unlike the earlier hearing in which Roof was in another room, the families stood before him at a lectern. Bruck says he needs to know whether prosecutors intend to seek the death penalty.
A grand jury had indicted him on 33 counts which included federal hate crime and firearms charges.
Dylann Roof in his first appearance in federal court.
“For these crimes, Roof faces penalties of up to life imprisonment or the death penalty”, said Loretta Lynch with the U.S. Department of Justice. “I want him to think about what I’m thinking and continue to think about it. That is all I have to say”.
The newspapersaid that Roof initially wanted to plead guilty to the hate crime charges on Friday morning.
“He will not take my joy”, Gracyn Doctor, the daughter of the Reverend DePayne Middleton-Doctor, one of the victims, said with Roof just steps behind her. “I pray the Lord have mercy on his soul”.
Relatives of the victims are free to attend the hearing and U.S. Magistrate Judge Bristow Marchant could allow them to speak, sources who were not authorized to speak on the record said on Thursday. One of the lawyers, Wilbur Johnson of Charleston, said the church was “ready, willing and able” to help prosecutors hold Roof “accountable”. He was represented by David Bruck, who was on the Dzhokhar Tsarnaev defense team, and Michael McConnell. His lawyers waived bail and the judge said it would have not been granted anyway.