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The man who killed nine churchgoers two years ago at a historically black church in Charleston, South Carolina, pleaded guilty Monday to state murder charges in exchange for a deal with state prosecutors that gives him nine consecutive life sentences without parole.
In December, a federal jury convicted Dylann Roof of 33 federal charges — including hate crimes — in connection with the fatal shooting on June 17, 2015 at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church. The jury handed down the death penalty in January, making Roof the first person sentenced to death for federal hate crimes.
Roof’s guilty plea came in a hearing Monday for a second trial on state charges of murder and attempted murder. Roof, now 23, received an additional 90 years for three counts of attempted murder. He also waived the right to appeal his guilty pleas.
The trial, lasting just under one and a half hours, was replete with testimonies and statements from friends and relatives of the deceased. In a statement, Roof’s grandfather said this was a situation he could have never imagined was possible.
“What happened here I will never understand, I will go to my grave not understanding,” he said. “I’d like to say loudly and repeatedly and constantly, we’re sorry. We’re just as sorry as we can be that this has happened. We regret it – it’s ruined lives and I cannot put those back together.”
In a letter to the victims’ families, obtained by the Washington Post, state prosecutor Scarlett A. Wilson described the state plea agreement as “an insurance policy.” If the federal death sentence is overturned, the plea ensures Roof would spend the rest of his life in prison.
It also avoids what would likely be another emotionally draining trial for the families and friends of those killed.
In the federal trial, friends and family members of the victims shared stories of the pain, sorrow and anger the needless killings evoked. Roof, emotionless, refused to make eye contact and stood by his decision to carry out the sinister killing spree.
“I still feel like I had to do it,” Roof told jurors in his closing argument in January.
Some of those family members and friends offered their testimony on Monday as well.
As part of the state plea agreement, Roof will be transferred to a prison outside of South Carolina to await his execution, according to the Associated Press.
PBS NewsHour will update this story as it develops.
Dave Berndtson is a production assistant for PBS NewsHour from Chicago.
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