A judge ordered Monday that South Carolina church shooter Dylann Roof be transferred to federal custody, following an earlier agreement that he plead guilty to state murder charges in order to avoid a second death sentence.
U.S. District Judge Richard Gergel ordered that U.S. Marshals take custody of Roof, 22. He will remain at the Charleston County jail. The only change is now he will be under federal, not county, supervision. The marshals will deliver him to state officials as needed until his case in South Carolina is officially wrapped up.
Court documents filed Sunday show that Roof, his attorneys and state and federal prosecutors agreed that Roof should be officially transferred to federal authorities.
Roof has been awaiting trial on state murder charges for the deaths of nine black parishioners at Charleston’s Emanuel AME Church in June 2015. Authorities said Roof spent months planning his attack on the historic black church, driving by the church and calling to check on service times. Roof sat through an hour of Bible study one Wednesday night before opening fire during a prayer, when participants’ eyes were closed, authorities said.
Roof faced different charges from both state and federal authorities. Solicitor Scarlett Wilson brought charges including nine counts of murder, while the federal government charged Roof with offenses including hate crimes and obstruction of the practice of religion.
Prosecutors in both courts pursued death sentences. The federal case came first, and jurors unanimously sentenced Roof to death earlier this year. Roof’s federal defense team had signaled a willingness to plead guilty ahead of that trial, if the death penalty were off the table, but federal prosecutors refused to drop their pursuit.
Roof, who has been housed at the Charleston County jail since his arrest, was kept there pending his state trial, which had been expected later this year. But last week, Wilson told The Associated Press that Roof had agreed to plead guilty to state charges in exchange for a life sentence. Relatives of some of the shooting victims heralded the decision, saying through their attorneys that the deal would spare them a grueling second trial.
According to Wilson, the plea deal also allowed Roof to be officially transferred into federal custody, which puts him a step closer to begin serving his sentence. Federal death row is located in Terre Haute, Indiana.
SOURCE: The Associated Press, Meg Kinnard