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Judge Sets South Carolina Shooting Suspect’s Bond at $1M for Weapons Charge

The 21-year-old has reportedly told investigators he had a momentary change of heart and very nearly backed out of his plan to carry out the racism-fueled crime.

by VICE News
Jun 19 2015, 3:00pm

Photo by Chuck Burton/AP

A Charleston, South Carolina judge Friday afternoon set a $1 million bond on a weapons charge against Dylann Storm Roof, the 21-year-old white man who has reportedly confessed to gunning down nine black church congregants Wednesday night.

The judge did not have the authority to set bond on nine counts of murder leveled against Roof, who appeared in court via prison satellite. Roof, dressed in a pinstriped jumpsuit, appeared sober and cast his eyes downward as he softly answered the judge's questions with "yes sir" and "no sir."

Before addressing the weapons charge, the judge told the courtroom filled with victims' relatives that while there were nine dead from the racially motivated actions, "we also have victims on the other side," referring to Roof's relatives.

"We must find it in our heart to not only help those who are victims, but also to help his family as well," he said.

The judge then allowed family members of the victims to speak before the court. Many rose to offer their forgiveness to Roof and asked him to repent or confess to his crimes.

A mother of one victim, Tywanza Sanders, said: "We welcomed you Wednesday night to our Bible Study. Every fiber in my body hurts and I'll never be the same.

"Tywanza is my son… he was my hero," she said. "But as we say in bible study, may God have mercy on your soul.

The US Justice Department has already opened a hate crime investigation into the shooting and reportedly announced Friday it was also looking into the incident as an act of domestic terrorism. Roof already faces the death penalty if convicted of nine counts of murder.

After he was arrested Thursday morning in Shelby, North Carolina, and taken into custody, Roof reportedly told investigators he had a momentary change of heart and very nearly backed out of his plan to carry out the racism-fueled crime.

He "almost didn't go through with it because everyone was so nice to him," sources told NBC News. The man entered Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church, a historically black church, around 8:30pm Wednesday and sat listening to prayers during a Bible study meeting for nearly an hour before allegedly opening firing on congregants, police said.

James Garbarino, a professor of psychology at Loyola University Chicago who has provided expert witness testimonials in murder cases for 20 years, told VICE News that Roof's alleged admission that he had brief misgivings shortly before shooting the congregants, would undoubtedly affect any insanity plea defense his lawyers might choose to file, if the defense went down that path.

"That comment certainly would be taken as evidence of lucidity, and normal empathic behavior, which is all the more reason why it makes sense to think of this as a terrorist act because terrorists I think often have that experience," he said.

Garbarino said that in general, an insanity defense is "incredibly rare" and the qualifying criteria is so "narrow" that "usually if there's premeditation, [the court] will rule it out as a basis for a defense."

Roof's motives are clear, authorities said. Witnesses later told police that the shooter had yelled racist and hate-filled speech at the congregants before pulling out his .45-caliber Glock pistol and opening fire on the victims, which included the church's pastor, Rev. Clementa C. Pinckney, who was also a state senator.

"You rape our women and you're taking over our country, and you have to go," Roof is alleged to have yelled shortly before the rampage, according to one survivor.

Related: Video of Suspected South Carolina Shooter's Court Exit Emerges After He Waives Extradition

But of the victims, six were women and three were men. In addition to Pinckney, the victims have been identified by Charleston County Coroner Rae Wooten as Cynthia Hurd, 54; Susie Jackson, 87; Ethel Lance, 70; Rev. DePayne Middleton-Doctor, 49; Tywanza Sanders, 26; Rev. Daniel Simmons Sr., 74; Rev. Sharonda Singleton 45; Myra Thompson, 59.

Three others survived the massacre.

Roof had been "planning something like that for six months, "his roommate, Dalton Tyler, told ABC News, adding that Roof "said he wanted to start a civil war. He said he was going to do something like that and then kill himself."

The backlash against the Roof's actions has been swift, with South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley (R) calling Roof "a person filled with hate."

"We will absolutely want him to have the death penalty," she told NBC's Today show.

President Barack Obama called the act a tragedy, and highlighted issues of gun control in a statement Thursday.

"Innocent people were killed in part because someone who wanted to inflict harm had no trouble getting their hands on a gun," he said at a press conference. "At some point, we as a country will have to reckon with the fact that this type of mass violence does not happen in other advanced countries," he added.

While authorities have labeled the act a "hate crime" and the Justice Department has opened an investigation to that effect, some activists such as the Black Lives Matter movement in Charleston called the crime an act of racially charged "domestic terrorism" in a statement.

Others on social media have pointed to the different way media and society portrays and labels mass shooters of different races or religions.

Officials in Charleston, nicknamed "The Holy City" for the multiple churches that dot its landscape, have also lamented the killer's choice of location, where victims were engaging in nothing more than prayer.

"Of all cities, in Charleston, to have a horrible hateful person go into the church and kill people there to pray and worship with each other is something that is beyond any comprehension and is not explained," said Mayor Joseph P. Riley Jr. "We are going to put our arms around that church and that church family."

Roof has an arrest record and was out on bond for a drug-related charge. He has been to jail and beyond the pending felony drug case, he was also slapped with a misdemeanor charge for trespassing in the past.

It was unclear whether Roof was affiliated with any of South Carolina's many white supremacist groups. Roof appeared to have an affinity for white-ruled regimes, with his license plate bearing a Confederate flag, and photos online showing the suspect with Rhodesia and apartheid-era South Africa patches on his jacket.

The Emmanuel AME church is a historic African-American church that traces its roots to 1816, when several churches split from Charleston's Methodist Episcopal church, according to the AP. The church was burned to the ground after founder Denmark Vesey tried to organize a slave revolt in 1822. Parishioners worshipped underground until after the Civil War.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.