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Prosecutor to seek death penalty in Charleston church killings

By Ralph Ellis, CNN | 9/3/2015, 6:18 p.m.
A prosecutor in South Carolina said Thursday she'll seek the death penalty against Dylann Roof, accused of killing nine people ...
Dylann Roof

(CNN) -- A prosecutor in South Carolina said Thursday she'll seek the death penalty against Dylann Roof, accused of killing nine people during a prayer meeting at a historic African-American church.

"This was the ultimate crime and justice from our state calls for the ultimate punishment," Charleston County Solicitor Scarlett Wilson said at a press conference.

Roof, 21, is accused of shooting participants at a June 17 Bible study class at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in downtown Charleston, known as Mother Emmanuel. Nine people died, including the Rev. Clementa Pinckney, who also was a state senator in South Carolina.

Wilson said she'd talked to survivors of the shooting and relatives of the slain victims. Some don't believe in the death penalty, but others think it's "entirely appropriate," she said.

"All understand my responsibility and have shown great respect, even deference for my decision to seek the death penalty for the killings at Mother Emmanuel church," Wilson said.

Roof, a high school dropout not known for violence, was captured the day after the shootings in North Carolina. He confessed in interviews with the Charleston police and FBI, two law enforcement officials told CNN. He also told investigators he wanted to start a race war, one of those officials said.

Roof's state trial is scheduled to start July 11, 2016.

He is also charged with 33 federal offenses, including hate crime charges for allegedly targeting his victims on the basis of their race and religion. It isn't clear yet when the federal trial would begin.

In the days after his arrest, relatives of the victim attended a court hearing and told Roof they forgave him.

"I will never be able to hold her again, but I forgive you," a daughter of Ethel Lance said. "And have mercy on your soul. You hurt me. You hurt a lot of people but God forgives you, and I forgive you."