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Death sentence upheld for Dylann Roof, who killed 9 in South Carolina church shooting

The June 17, 2015, attack in Charleston was a racially motivated hate crime, a jury found.
Image: Dylan Roof In Court Over Judge's Gag Order
Dylan Roof appears in court accompanied by assistant defense attorney William Maguire in Charleston, S.C., on July 18, 2015.Grace Beahm / Pool via Getty Images file

A federal appeals court Wednesday upheld a death sentence for Dylann Roof, the white man convicted in the mass shooting of Black members of Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina.

Roof, 27, had appealed his sentence to the U.S. 4th Circuit Court of Appeals, which concluded: "No cold record or careful parsing of statutes and precedents can capture the full horror of what Roof did. His crimes qualify him for the harshest penalty that a just society can impose."

The court recounted the crimes of Roof, who as a 21-year-old admitted white supremacist entered the church on June 17, 2015, and joined a Bible study group.

"The parishioners welcomed Roof, handing him a Bible and a study sheet," the court said. "For the next 45 minutes, Roof worshipped with the parishioners. They stood and shut their eyes for closing prayer.

"Roof then took out his gun and started shooting," the court said. "Parishioners dove under tables to hide. Roof continued shooting, reloading multiple times. After firing approximately 74 rounds, Roof reached one parishioner who was praying aloud. He told her to 'shut up' and then asked if he had shot her yet."

Roof told her, "I'm going to leave you here to tell the story," according to the court record.

Roof killed nine people: the Rev. Sharonda Coleman-Singleton, Cynthia Hurd, Susie Jackson, Ethel Lee Lance, the Rev. Depayne Middleton-Doctor, the Rev. Clementa Pinckney, Tywanza Sanders, the Rev. Daniel Simmons Sr. and the Rev. Myra Thompson.

Days later, during a eulogy for Pinckney, President Barack Obama described the victims as "good people, decent people, God-fearing people. People so full of life and so full of kindness, people who ran the race, persevered. People of great faith."

He led the audience at the College of Charleston's arena in a rendition of "Amazing Grace."

Roof, who was convicted of murder and other counts, including nine counts of racially motivated hate crimes resulting in death, was sentenced to death in early 2017.

Standby defense lawyers tried unsuccessfully to question his mental health for the record. Roof said at the time that arguing for a prison sentence wasn't worth the effort.

In his appeal, Roof challenged his competency to stand trial, questioned whether he should have been allowed to represent himself during the penalty phase, alleged that errors in the penalty phase were unjust and said some of the charging statutes might have been unconstitutional, according to the court.

The appeals judges disagreed, saying Roof's argument was "strained."

Roof remains on death row in Terre Haute Federal Prison in Indiana. Attorney General Merrick Garland last month issued a moratorium on federal executions while the Justice Department conducts a review.