Dylann Roof told a federal judge on Wednesday he will not testify in his defense, shortly after prosecutors wrapped up their case with shooting survivor Polly Sheppard as their final witness.
Roof sat motionless during court, as Sheppard, 72, testified how she recalled hiding underneath a table while she said he shot and killed those who attended Bible study on June 17, 2015 at Emanuel AME Church in Charleston.
After her testimony ended and the jury was sent away for a recess, Roof stood before U.S. District Judge Richard Gergel and was placed under oath.
“Mr. Roof, do you wish to testify or not to testify,” Gergel asked.
Roof replied, “not to testify.”
The defense officially rested its case after the jury was brought back into the courtroom. Gergel then dispatched jurors through Thursday at 9:30 a.m., when closing arguments will take place.
The jury heard from two witnesses on Wednesday, a Medical University of South Carolina professor and forensic examiner and Sheppard.
When Sheppard walked up to the witness stand, she grabbed several sheets of tissue.
She recalled how after shooting several fellow parishioners, Roof walked up to Sheppard and pointed his gun at her, under questioning by U.S. Attorney Jay Richardson.
“He told me to shut up,” Sheppard said. “I was praying. He told me to shut up and he asked me, ‘Did I shoot you yet?’ I said ‘no.’ He said, ‘I’m not going to. I’m going to leave you to tell the story.’”
As Roof stood before her feet, Sheppard said Tywanza Sanders attempted to distract Roof by asking him why was he “doing this. We mean you no harm.”
“The defendant said, ‘I have to,’” Sheppard said in court. “‘I just have to.’ He said he had to do it.”
Sheppard said that when she first heard the gunshots, she thought something had gone wrong with the church’s electrical wiring. But when she heard Felicia Sanders screaming that Roof had a gun, Sheppard said she ducked under a table.
After the gunfire ended, Sheppard said she went searching for a cell phone to call 911. She said she first misdialed, but tried again. Her harrowing call to emergency responders was played in court.
“He’s still in here,” Sheppard was heard telling a dispatcher. “I’m afraid he’s still in here.”
It was difficult to hear parts of the 911 call, which will be published later today or Thursday by the court. Sheppard can be heard telling the dispatcher “so many” gunshots were fired that she couldn’t give a number.
“Oh my gosh,” Sheppard told the dispatcher. “I think they’re dead.”
After the playing of the 911 call came to end, Roof’s defense attorney, David Bruck, stood up and addressed Sheppard during cross examination.
“I’m so sorry,” Bruck said. “I have no questions.”
When Sheppard stepped away from the stand, she choked back tears. As she walked toward the aisle, people began to stand in a kind of shared, silent recognition that everyone had just heard a remarkable story from someone who had been through a horrific ordeal and survived to tell the tale.
Among the first to stand were Roof defense attorneys Bruck and Kimberly Stevens. It is almost unheard of for a courtroom audience to stand in respect when a witness finishes testifying and is leaving the courtroom.
After Sheppard, comforted by a man and woman, left, Richardson stood.
“At this time, the government rests,” he said.
Sheppard was the 37th and final witness for the prosecution. Her testimony came on the trial’s sixth day of testimony.