Heartrending testimony from a 72-year-old woman who survived the Charleston church massacre carried out by Dylann Roof ended six days of harrowing testimony surrounding the June 17 attack, as the jury retired to deliberate on the gunman’s guilt.
Polly Sheppard took the stand Wednesday to recount the chilling moment nine members of her church family were gunned down right before her eyes. Sheppard’s testimony detailed how Roof, a self-avowed white supremacist, entered the doors of Mother Emanuel AME that evening and was welcomed with open arms by the church’s pastor, who he ultimately shot and killed.
About an hour into Bible study that fateful evening, the elderly victim said she heard a blast ring out as she and fellow church members bowed their heads in prayer. That’s when Roof, 22, began picking off each parishioner one by one, shooting each of them multiple times.
Sheppard said she dove under a table in the church’s fellowship hall to shield herself from the gunfire and watched as Roof’s boots stepped closer and closer to where she hid. When he finally got to her, Sheppard said she began praying out loud.
“He told me to shut up,” she testified. Then Roof asked if he’d shot her yet, to which she responded, “No.”
“‘I’m not going to,'” Sheppard said the baby-faced gunman told her. “‘I’m going to leave you here to tell the story.” Two other people, a woman and a child, also survived the attack.
Prosecutors allowed jury members to hear the frantic 911 call Sheppard made after Roof left. The elderly survivor said she called authorities using the cellphone of victim Ethel Lance, which had dropped beside her when Lance was shot.
“Please, Emanuel church,” Sheppard was heard telling the dispatcher in muffled tones and short breaths. “People shot. Please send (help) right away!”
“Send someone down here, please,” she continued pleading as the dispatcher instructed her to stay quiet until police arrived. “He’s coming. He’s coming. Please!”
At the conclusion of Sheppard’s gut-wrenching testimony, Roof’s lead defense attorney, David Bruck, informed Judge Richard Gergel that he was resting his case, the Charleston Post and Courier reported. Bruck hadn’t called a single witness to the stand and Roof declined to testify in his own defense.
U.S. Attorney Jay Richardson also rested his case. Both sides were scheduled to make closing arguments on Thursday, Dec. 15.
Roof faces 33 hate-crime counts, among other charges. Prosecutors are seeking the death penalty, and if convicted, Roof would be required to represent himself in the sentencing portion of the trial, which is set to begin Jan. 3. Last week, the gunman requested permission to act as his own lawyer for the guilt phase but later reneged.
Roof faces a separate state murder trial in Charleston, where he also faces the death penalty.