Roof scouted South Carolina church before deadly attack: FBI agent

Reuters News
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Posted: Dec 13, 2016 2:26 PM

By Harriet McLeod

CHARLESTON, S.C. (Reuters) - Dylann Roof visited Charleston, South Carolina, at least six times in the months before he shot and killed nine people in a historic black church there in June 2015, an FBI agent told jurors at Roof's federal death penalty trial on Tuesday.

GPS data from Roof's car shows he drove by Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church, the site of the massacre, on several of the trips dating back to December 2014, testified Joseph Hamski, the lead federal agent on Roof's case.

The self-described white supremacist's apparent scouting trips also included stops at historic plantations and Fort Moultrie, the U.S. arrival point for thousands of African slaves in the 18th and 19th centuries, the agent said, noting Roof always traveled alone.

In February 2015, Roof called Emanuel from a landline at his mother's home near Columbia, Hamski said.

Roof, 22, has confessed he targeted the church. Law enforcement officers who took the stand on the fifth day of testimony in Charleston detailed their findings of Roof's racist ideology and a timeline of the months he appeared to spend planning the mass shooting.

Photos found at his mother's home showed Roof pointing his gun at a camera and sitting on a bed wearing a pointed white hood, investigators said, referring to something traditionally worn by members of the Ku Klux Klan hate group.

Jurors saw chilling video Roof made of himself taking target practice with a laser sight mounted on a pistol in his mother's backyard and surveillance footage from stores where he bought hundreds of rounds of ammunition.

"Did your investigation reveal that Mr. Roof was a member of any organization?" defense lawyer David Bruck asked Hamski on cross examination.

"No," said the agent, adding investigators determined Roof acted alone in the shooting.

Earlier on Tuesday, U.S. District Judge Richard Gergel said he would not allow the defense to call witnesses to testify about Roof's state of mind and personal characteristics until the penalty phase of the trial.

The defense has not disputed Roof's guilt on federal charges of hate crimes resulting in death, obstruction of religion and firearms violations but hope jurors will spare him from execution.

Roof is not asserting an insanity defense and was found competent to stand trial, Gergel noted in a written order on Monday.

Prosecutors said they expect to finish their case on Wednesday with testimony from Polly Sheppard, who was at the church but not killed because Roof said he wanted her tell what he had done.

(Reporting by Harriet McLeod; Writing by Colleen Jenkins; Editing by Bill Trott and Tom Brown)