The families of Dylann Roof's victims have their day in court

The sentencing phase of Dylann Roof’s trial is moving along quickly. Today the families of some of the victims of the shooting were given the opportunity to address the court and speak about the impact the murders had on them and the rest of the community. This is a key portion of the proceedings because the prosecution is hoping to sway any members of the jury who may be queasy about sending Roof to meet his maker by demonstrating precisely how monstrous his actions were.

One of the early speakers was the wife of a state senator (and pastor) who was among the fallen. (ABC News)

Jennifer Pinckney, wife of slain pastor and South Carolina State Sen. Clementa Pinckney, told the jury Wednesday her husband was a loving, devoted and involved father to their two young daughters.

Jennifer Pinckney and their youngest daughter were at the church the night of the shooting; they were in an office while her husband was at the Bible study. She told the jury how she and her daughter hid under a desk as gunshots rang out; she said they put their hands over each other’s mouths.

Pinckney testified that she heard Roof say he was not crazy and had to do this. She said Roof tried to open the door to where she was, but it was locked.

She said the hardest thing she ever had to do was tell her 6-year-old and 12-year-old that their father had been killed.

This sort of testimony is putting a human face on the otherwise occasionally dry, statistical evidence which has been offered over the course of the trial. The story of Pinckney is particularly poignant and may resonate strongly with the jurors. Not only was he a public servant, but a man of the cloth who gave of his free time to support the congregation. To be so brutally slain while leading his fellow worshipers in prayer was bad enough, but to have his wife and child cowering in fear of their lives within earshot of the carnage and hearing Roof attempting to open the door to get to them is beyond the comprehension of most people.

This is that “human face” of the victims I referred to above. It stands in contrast to the corresponding “inhuman face” which Roof painted for them of his own accord yesterday. He stated in a clear voice that he was in command of his faculties, knew precisely what he was doing and had no regrets. This matched up well with some of the answers he gave under initial police questioning (which were played in court) when he actually broke into laughter at one point while describing what he had done.

Dylann Roof is a real life monster, as bad as any you find in a Stephen King horror novel. The jury is getting a good look at this, up close and personal. While I realize that many of the victims’ family members have stated in public that they forgive him, as Christ commands, and not all of them approve of the death penalty, this should be difficult for the jury to ignore. The prosecution is getting the job done here, and if they can’t bring back a death penalty finding it won’t be for lack of trying. But even if that’s how it goes, there’s still a state trial to come where they will also seek Roof’s termination. Unfortunately for the families, this story will be playing out on their television screens for a while longer yet.


Jazz Shaw Jun 22, 2021 6:01 PM ET