COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) — Because he had to leave his day job late, the pastor of a South Carolina church canceled his weekly Bible study class. That move may have averted a second round of deadly shootings after nine worshippers had been killed at another black church.
According to federal court documents unsealed Tuesday, Dylann Roof, who was convicted of killing the nine worshippers during Bible study at Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, exited an interstate and drove approximately 30 miles northwest toward the Branch AME Church in Summerville, where another Bible study was advertised on a church sign. That was based on GPS evidence, and prosecutors said Roof shut off his GPS device, which they said indicated he stopped the car.
But Branch AME pastor the Rev. Rufus Berry told The Associated Press he called off Bible study that night because he was going to be late leaving his job at a cement company. He said he was shocked when he learned through news reports that his church, which has 70 members, had been targeted by Roof.
"I'm still trying to digest this. I'm trying to get through it," Berry said Wednesday, moments before heading to the very Bible study class that was canceled the night of the shootings.
"I would hate to know what the outcome would be. I dread to even think about that," he said. "I thank God that he had us protected" from a second attack.
In December, a jury convicted Roof on 33 federal charges for gunning down nine people as they prayed at the end of a Bible study at the historic Charleston church known as Mother Emanuel.
During trial, prosecutors presented evidence showing that the self-taught white supremacist, now 22, had lists of other black churches in his car when he was arrested in Shelby, North Carolina. The details about the Branch AME church were not mentioned, however.
Roof's legal team sought to keep the Branch AME information out of his trial, noting in documents of their own that the church — one of more than 500 AME congregations in South Carolina — was merely near his route from Charleston to North Carolina and that the government had no evidence Roof had planned an attack there.
"The only possible reason" for introducing this evidence, they noted, "is to invite jurors to speculate that the defendant planned attacks on other churches — a proposition that is obviously inflammatory and for which there is no support."
Further court documents show prosecutors ultimately withdrew their request to introduce information about Branch AME at trial.
During a lengthy confession the day after the shootings, Roof told FBI agents he was too tired after the Emanuel killings to carry out any other violence.
State prosecutors are pursuing the death penalty against Roof on murder charges. No date has been set for his trial, which had been indefinitely postponed during the federal proceedings. Roof is also seeking a new federal trial, saying prosecutors didn't have jurisdiction to bring their case against him.
Foreman reported from Charlotte, North Carolina. Kinnard can be reached at http://twitter.com/MegKinnardAP . Read more of her work at http://bigstory.ap.org/content/meg-kinnard/ .