The families of several victims of last year’s deadly shooting at Mother Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, S.C., have urged forgiveness for gunman Dylann Roof as the federal government pursues the death penalty.
Roof faces 33 federal charges, including nine counts of violating the Hate Crime Act resulting in death.
Rev. Sharon Risher, whose mother was killed in the massacre, told The New York Times she believes executing Roof would be an act of vengeance. She explained that her Christian faith instead calls her to forgiveness.
“My humanness is being broken, my humanness of wanting this man to be broken beyond punishment,” Risher said. “You can’t do that if you really say that you believe in the Bible and you believe in Jesus Christ. You can’t just waver.”
Risher is not the first to publicly extend forgiveness to Roof. Two other surviving family members made court statements extending mercy to Roof.
“You took something very precious away from me,” said Nadine Collier at a bond hearing in June of last year. “I will never talk to her ever again. I will never be able to hold her again. But I forgive you. And have mercy on your soul.” Collier is the daughter of Ethel Lance, one of the nine killed.
“Every fiber in my body hurts, and I will never be the same. Tywanza Sanders is my son, but Tywanza was my hero,” said Felicia Sanders at the same hearing, mother to 26-year-old Twanza Sanders, also among the dead. “Tywanza was my hero. But as we say in Bible study, we enjoyed you. But may God have mercy on you.”
The Department of Justice cited nine aggravating factors in its decision to pursue the death penalty, including hatred for blacks and the absence of remorse. The decision to seek capital punishment was made by Attorney General Loretta Lynch and other senior DOJ officials. State prosecutors and the U.S. Attorney for South Carolina have questioned the move. South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley supported the Department’s decision, and indicated her preference for capital punishment shortly after the shooting occurred.
Late last week, a federal judge ruled that Roof was competent to stand trial after defense lawyers halted jury selection and asserted he was not mentally fit to participate in his own defense. Roof’s lawyers sought to delay the trial until such time as he was ruled mentally competent to participate in the proceedings. U.S. District Court Judge Richard Gergel rejected the motion, and jury selection will resume Monday.