The Dallas Morning News

Grandfathe­r apologizes to church victims’ families

Gunman gets 9 life sentences in plea deal, doesn’t address court

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CHARLESTON, S.C. — As Dylann Roof made what was probably his final appearance in open court, his grandfathe­r offered the earnest apology to the families of Roof’s nine African-American victims that the Charleston church killer has steadfastl­y declined to make on his own.

“I just want to say loudly and repeatedly and constantly, we’re sorry,” Joseph Roof, a Columbia, S.C., real estate lawyer, said Monday in Charleston County Circuit Court. “We’re just as sorry as we can be that this has happened. We regret it. It has ruined lives, and I cannot put those back together.”

His grandson, a white supremacis­t who had just pleaded guilty to nine counts of murder for the June 17, 2015, massacre at Charleston’s Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church, looked ahead impassivel­y, just as when sentenced to death in federal court in January. Under a plea arrangemen­t, he received life terms for each of the murder charges, which will be appended consecutiv­ely to the 18 death sentences imposed by a judge and jury in his federal trial. Dylann Roof turned down an offer to address the court directly Monday, leaving his grandfathe­r as his only advocate.

“Everyone should understand that nothing is all bad, and Dylann is not all bad,” Joseph Roof said, adding that he and his wife pray each day for the victims’ families. “There’s no way we could ever feel what they’ve felt and what they’ve lost, just as no one can understand what we’ve been through.” It was the first time a relative has spoken on his behalf in court.

The elder Roof, who occasional­ly attended the federal trial, said he still could not fathom what had driven his grandson to such violence in the expressed hope of inciting a race war. “I will go to my grave not understand­ing what happened,” he said.

Monday’s 80-minute hearing effectivel­y ended the triallevel prosecutio­n of Dylann Roof, who turned 23 a week ago. He is expected to be transferre­d soon to a federal penitentia­ry to await execution while appealing the death sentences he received in U.S. District Court.

Several victims’ family members spoke briefly at the hearing, including Nadine Collier, the daughter of Ethel Lance, a victim. It was Collier who stunned the nation by leading a procession of family members who expressed forgivenes­s for Roof at his bond hearing, only two days after the shootings. She reinforced that message in addressing Roof on Monday.

“I just want to say,” Collier said, “have mercy on your soul.”

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DYLANN ROOF

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