Dylann Roof Pleads Guilty To State-Level Murder Charges In Charleston Church Shootings

With the exception of the mandatory Federal death penalty appeals, the legal process is basically over in the Charleston Church shootings.

Dylann Roof In Custody

Dylann Roof, the shooter who killed nine people in a mass shooting at a historic African-American church in Charleston, South Carolina in 2015, has agreed to plead guilty to state murder charges rather than face trial and a second probable death sentence:

Eleven weeks after a federal jury condemned Dylann S. Roof to death for killing nine worshipers at a black church in Charleston, S.C., state prosecutors announced on Friday that they would end a separate case by allowing him to plead guilty to murder in exchange for a life sentence.

After the Bible study massacre in June 2015 at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church, the state and federal governments each announced they would seek to execute the avowed white supremacist.

A state grand jury indicted him for murder and attempted murder while a federal grand jury charged him with 33 counts, including hate crimes resulting in death, obstruction of exercise of religion and use of a firearm to commit murder.

Mr. Roof said in a remorseless confession and in various writings that he planned the attack in hopes of fomenting a race war.

But federal prosecutors beat their state counterparts to court, leaving Scarlett A. Wilson, the chief prosecutor for Charleston County, to decide whether to put survivors and victims’ families through a second traumatic trial, at taxpayer expense, in pursuit of a duplicate sentence.

As had been expected since the end of the federal trial in January, Ms. Wilson concluded that the 18 death sentences from that case would suffice.

Last year, the Justice Department rejected Mr. Roof’s offer to plead guilty to the federal charges in exchange for a life sentence. Mr. Roof, who represented himself for part of his case and presented no evidence in his defense during his federal trial, has filed a motion in federal court seeking a new trial.

Ms. Wilson announced her decision in a letter and telephone calls to family members of the victims. Mr. Roof’s state public defender, D. Ashley Pennington, confirmed the details.

Ms. Wilson said in an interview that Mr. Roof, 22, would plead guilty at a hearing on April 10 to nine counts of murder and three counts of attempted murder (two adults and a child survived). He then would be transferred from the Charleston County jail to a federal prison.

Appeals are likely to delay his execution for years.

In her letter, Ms. Wilson described Mr. Roof’s agreement to plead guilty as “an insurance policy to the federal conviction and sentence.”

“If something very, very, very unlikely were to happen at the federal level,” she wrote, “the state sentence would take effect and he would serve life in prison. (And no more trials!)”

Many victims’ family members have opposed the death penalty for Mr. Roof.

But Andrew J. Savage, a Charleston lawyer who represents two women who survived the shootings and the families of several victims, said his clients were pleased primarily because the plea deal brings the case to a close, at least at the trial level.

Ever since Roof was found guilty in his Federal trial and sentenced to death, the status of the parallel proceedings at the state level have been in question. As it stands, there was really no reason to go forward with the trial and attempt to sentence Roof to death a second time since it’s clear that neither the guilty verdict nor the sentence are likely to get overturned on appeal. Additionally, as noted in the quoted article, the victims’ families have said from the beginning that they oppose giving Roof the death sentence, some because of religious conviction and others because they apparently would rather see Roof spend the rest of his life in what would likely be essentially solitary confinement in a Federal Super-Max Prison. As it stands, those are exactly the conditions he’s likely to face during the years that he awaits the resolution of his case as it makes its way through the mandatory appeals process at the Federal level. Personally speaking, life in prison without the possibility of parole is exactly the sentence that I would impose on Roof. This is not only because I generally oppose the death penalty to begin with, but because it does feel like sentencing him to death by lethal injection is somehow giving him the easy way out of the consequences of what was a horrible, horrible crime. At age 22, that would mean he’d have fifty or sixty years of living with the consequences of what he did. That seems like justice to me.

In any case, with the guilty plea at the state level, this essentially becomes a case under the exclusive jurisdiction of the Federal Government. As noted, Roof is expected to be transferred to Federal custody shortly, where he will sit in prison pending the resolution of an appeals process that is required by law regardless of whether Roof desires to appeal or not. This is designed to ensure that the death sentence that was imposed is free from error or prejudice. As I’ve noted before, this process will take several years at least. The last person to be executed by the Federal Government was a man named Louis Jones Jr., who was executed in 2003 for the 1995 murder of an American soldier on active duty. Jones was convicted in 1995 and it took eight years for his appeals process to run its course. The most notable recent Federal execution, of course, was Timothy McVeigh, who was executed in June 2001 for the April 1995 bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City. Based on the timeline in these two cases, the earliest that we’d likely see Roof executed would be somewhere around 2024. Thanks to the increased legal scrutiny that has been placed on the lethal injection process in recent years, it’s possible that it could come considerably later than that. In any case, Roof’s fate is sealed. Perhaps that will give the survivors, victim’s families, and the people of Charleston and South Carolina some kind of peace.

FILED UNDER: Crime, Law and the Courts, Religion, , , , , ,
Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug Mataconis held a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010 and contributed a staggering 16,483 posts before his retirement in January 2020. He passed far too young in July 2021.


  1. Sleeping Dog says:

    Either way he dies in prison.

    May the survivors heal their sorrow.

    …the death penalty to beingbegin with, but…

  2. Gustopher says:

    I feel better about the outcome of the state prosecution than the federal — I don’t think the government should be in the business of killing people. We don’t need this twit’s blood on our hands, and we don’t need to hold this twit up as someone deserving the ultimate sanction.

    That said, I won’t shed a tear for Dylann Roof.

  3. bill says:

    i wonder if the usual suspects will be there protesting the death penalty for this waste of oxygen? of course not, for obvious reasons…..
    gen-pop would end this quickly…..but that’s too obvious too.

  4. teve tory says:

    bill, you’re just an idiot.

  5. Eric Florack says:

    I’m not going to be shedding any tears over dylann roof either, but I do note the glaring double standard being applied here.

    This mental deficient goes in and shoots up a church of black people, kills nine of them…and the event gets used as a reason to Ban a flag. He gets labeled as a hate Criminal, and the value signalling is that it’s okay to hate the kid.

    Meantime, a supposedly “moderate Muslim” wanders into a gay bar and shoots 50 people… And the *gun* gets blamed… And if Islam gets mentioned at all it’s within the word islamophobic…