Victims’ Families Recount Stories of Loss After Charleston Shooting

Charleston County Sheriff(CHARLESTON, S.C.) -- The families of the Charleston, South Carolina church shooting victims are recounting their tragic stories of loss and grief to the jurors who will decide whether or not convicted killer Dylann Roof will be sentenced to death.

Roof, who is representing himself for the sentencing phase of his federal trial, spoke for less than five minutes in his opening statement Wednesday, telling the jury there is nothing wrong with him psychologically. Roof did not apologize for his actions.

Last month, the jury found Roof guilty of shooting and killing nine parishioners at a Charleston, South Carolina, church, in June 2015.

The government is asking the jury to sentence Roof to death. Assistant U.S. Attorney Nathan Williams on Wednesday presented a letter in court that Roof penned six weeks after his arrest, in which he wrote in part, "I have not shed a tear for the innocent people I killed."

Denise Quarles, daughter of slain churchgoer Myra Thompson, told the jury Thursday morning of their close mother-daughter bond. Quarles, who was crying on the stand, said her mother made sure she had everything she needed growing up even though the family didn't have a lot of money. One year, Thompson splurged and bought Quarles an Apple computer after Quarles' teacher said she showed an aptitude for technology.

Quarles said she loved talking to her mother on the phone several times a day. She still picks up the phone to call her mother, forgetting that she's not there to answer.

"She was the best mom," Quarles told the jury, according to ABC affiliate WCIV-TV. "If I could choose, I would choose her. I miss everything about my mom."

Rita Whidbee, longtime friend of slain Rev. Sharonda Coleman-Singleton, told the jury Thursday morning of her friend's generosity, intelligence and ability to get things done.

Whidbee said when she was getting divorced and living alone for the first time, Coleman-Singleton came to her house with a signed blank check; Coleman-Singleton told her to write whatever amount she needed, WCIV reported.

As a recording of Coleman-Singleton preaching was played in court, Whidbee appeared emotional, putting her head down and crying, said WCIV.

Roof went to the church that night armed and "with the intent of killing African-Americans engaged in the exercise of their religious beliefs," according to the federal indictment against him. The church members welcomed Roof into their Bible study, according to the indictment, after which Roof drew a gun and opened fire.

Jennifer Pinckney, wife of slain pastor and South Carolina State Sen. Clementa Pinckney, told the jury Wednesday her husband was a loving, devoted and involved father to their two young daughters.

Jennifer Pinckney and their youngest daughter were at the church the night of the shooting; they were in an office while her husband was at the Bible study. She told the jury how she and her daughter hid under a desk as gunshots rang out; she said they put their hands over each other's mouth.

Pinckney testified that she heard Roof say he was not crazy and had to do this. She said Roof tried to open the door to where she was, but it was locked.

She said the hardest thing she ever had to do was tell her 6-year-old and 12-year-old that their father had been killed.

Defense attorney David Bruck told the court last month, "He did it ... You're probably wondering, so what we are doing here? Why does there need to be a trial? ... The practical reason is that the government has asked for the death penalty after conviction, and because of that, we have a procedure to go through.”

"Our society does not order the death penalty if there are reasons to choose life," Bruck added. "You're going to want to understand who this person was and why on earth he would want to cause so much grief."

Roof also faces a state trial in which he may again face the death penalty.

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