COLUMBIA — Several family members of the nine people gunned down at a historic black church in Charleston say they support decisions by state and federal prosecutors to seek the death penalty for the man charged in the slayings.
Steve Hurd, whose wife, Cynthia, was among those killed June 17 during Bible study at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal, said he won’t be at peace until Dylann Roof is put to death.
“What would give me full closure would be if I were the one who pushed the plunger on the lethal injection, or if I were the one to pull the switch on the electric chair or if I was the one to open the valve on the gas chamber,” he told The Associated Press on Wednesday. When “Roof’s body is cold, sleeping in the ground — that’s closure.”
Roof, 22, faces nine counts of murder in state court and hate crimes and other charges in federal court. The killings reignited discussions about race relations and led to the removal of a Confederate battle flag from the South Carolina Statehouse. Roof, who is white, had previously posed for photos with a rebel flag.
This week, US Attorney General Loretta Lynch announced that federal prosecutors would seek the death penalty. South Carolina Solicitor Scarlett Wilson announced her decision in September. Roof’s state trial is scheduled for next year. No date has been set for his federal trial.
When Roof faced a judge last summer, family members of the victims told him they forgave him for his alleged crimes. Their expressions of grace and sympathy, in the face of their own monumental pain, moved many.
“As we said in Bible Study, we enjoyed you,” said Felicia Sanders, whose son Tywanza was killed. “But may God have mercy on your soul.”
In a statement released through Roof’s lawyer at the time, his family said they had been “touched by the moving words . . . offering God’s forgiveness and love in the face of such horrible suffering.”
Both state and federal prosecutors have spent time consulting with relatives of the shooting victims over the pursuit of the death penalty, and Roof’s federal attorneys have said their client would be willing to plead guilty if the maximum punishment weren’t on the table.
Due in part to problems in obtaining lethal injection drugs, no one has been executed in South Carolina since 2011. The federal government hasn’t put anyone to death since 2003.
“There is no room in our society for hatred and racism,” Hurd’s brother Malcolm Graham said. “I support the attorney general’s decision to seek the death penalty. I believe he should be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.”
On Wednesday, a portrait was set to unveiled in the South Carolina Senate to remember Senator Clementa Pinckney, the pastor at Emanuel who was killed in the attack. Pinckney had been a state senator since 2001.