Dylann Roof trial underway, prosecutor says racial hate drove deadly attack on South Carolina church

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CHARLESTON, S.C., Dec 7 (Reuters) - Avowed white supremacist Dylann Roof said he had to kill innocent black South Carolina churchgoers at a Bible study last year in retaliation for perceived offenses against his race, a prosecutor said in opening statements at Roof's federal death penalty trial on Wednesday.

As the trial began at the J. Waties Waring Judicial Center, lawyers warned jurors to brace themselves for a recounting of the massacre in which nine people died at Charleston's historic Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church on June 17, 2015.

"He chose to enter the religious sanctuary and sit with the parishioners for half an hour, coldly considering what he was about to do," Assistant U.S. Attorney Jay Richardson said of Roof in his opening statement.

Roof, 22, faces 33 federal counts of hate crimes resulting in death, obstruction of religion and firearms violations stemming from the attack. He also is scheduled to be tried for murder by state prosecutors.

RELATED: Photos Charleston, SC shooting scene and suspect Dylann Roof

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Charleston SC shooting suspect. Dylann Roof
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Charleston SC shooting suspect. Dylann Roof
Photos found on a website that allegedly belongs to church shooting suspect Dylann Roof.
Photos found on a website that allegedly belongs to church shooting suspect Dylann Roof.
Photos found on a website that allegedly belongs to church shooting suspect Dylann Roof.
Photos found on a website that allegedly belongs to church shooting suspect Dylann Roof.
Photos found on a website that allegedly belongs to church shooting suspect Dylann Roof.
Photos found on a website that allegedly belongs to church shooting suspect Dylann Roof.
Photos found on a website that allegedly belongs to church shooting suspect Dylann Roof.
Photos found on a website that allegedly belongs to church shooting suspect Dylann Roof.
Photos found on a website that allegedly belongs to church shooting suspect Dylann Roof.
Photos found on a website that allegedly belongs to church shooting suspect Dylann Roof.
Photos found on a website that allegedly belongs to church shooting suspect Dylann Roof.
This image has been provided by the Charleston Police Department, Thursday, June 18, 2015. A man opened fire during a prayer meeting inside a historic black church in downtown Charleston, S.C., Wednesday night, June 17, 2015, killing nine people, including the pastor in an assault that authorities are calling a hate crime. The shooter remained at large Thursday. (Photo via Charleston Police Department)
The Emanuel AME Church is viewed behind a police vehicle on June 18, 2015 in Charleston, South Carolina, after a mass shooting at the Church on the evening of June 17, 2015. US police on Thursday arrested a 21-year-old white gunman suspected of killing nine people at a prayer meeting in one of the nation's oldest black churches in Charleston, an attack being probed as a hate crime. The shooting at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in the southeastern US city was one of the worst attacks on a place of worship in the country in recent years, and comes at a time of lingering racial tensions. AFP PHOTO/BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI (Photo credit should read BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP/Getty Images)
A police officer holds up a tape in front of the Emanuel AME Church June 18, 2015 in Charleston, South Carolina, after a mass shooting at the church on the evening of June 17, 2015. US police on Thursday arrested a 21-year-old white gunman suspected of killing nine people at a prayer meeting in one of the nation's oldest black churches in Charleston, an attack being probed as a hate crime. The shooting at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in the southeastern US city was one of the worst attacks on a place of worship in the country in recent years, and comes at a time of lingering racial tensions. AFP PHOTO/BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI (Photo credit should read BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP/Getty Images)
A view ofthe Emanuel AME Church is seen June 18, 2015 in Charleston, South Carolina, after a mass shooting at the church on the evening of June 17, 2015. US police on Thursday arrested a 21-year-old white gunman suspected of killing nine people at a prayer meeting in one of the nation's oldest black churches in Charleston, an attack being probed as a hate crime. The shooting at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in the southeastern US city was one of the worst attacks on a place of worship in the country in recent years, and comes at a time of lingering racial tensions. AFP PHOTO/BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI (Photo credit should read BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP/Getty Images)
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Richardson said Roof scouted the church for months. He bought a gun in April 2015 and began stockpiling ammunition and performing target practice.

On the muggy June night he carried out his plan, Roof waited until parishioners stood to pray at the end of their meeting before opening fire with his .45-caliber pistol, the prosecutor said.

His first target was the Reverend Clementa Pinckney, the church's pastor and a state senator who had offered Roof the seat beside him at the Bible study. Then he fired round after round into each of his victims.

"You don't have to do this. We mean you no harm," a wounded Tywanza Sanders, 26, told Roof, according to Richardson.

Spouting white supremacist views, Roof then shot and killed Sanders, the prosecutor said.

Roof told Polly Sheppard, who was praying out loud, that he would let her live to tell the story of what he had done.

He confessed to the killings to federal agents when he was apprehended in North Carolina after an overnight manhunt.

RELATED: Charleston, SC shooting - memorials, aftermath

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Charleston, SC shooting - memorials, aftermath
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Charleston, SC shooting - memorials, aftermath
People que to lay flowers at Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, South Carolina on June 19, 2015. Police captured the white suspect in a gun massacre at one of the oldest black churches in the United States, the latest deadly assault to feed simmering racial tensions. Police detained 21-year-old Dylann Roof, shown wearing the flags of defunct white supremacist regimes in pictures taken from social media, after nine churchgoers were shot dead during bible study on June 17. AFP PHOTO/MLADEN ANTONOV (Photo credit should read MLADEN ANTONOV/AFP/Getty Images)
People que to lay flowers at Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, South Carolina on June 19, 2015. Police captured the white suspect in a gun massacre at one of the oldest black churches in the United States, the latest deadly assault to feed simmering racial tensions. Police detained 21-year-old Dylann Roof, shown wearing the flags of defunct white supremacist regimes in pictures taken from social media, after nine churchgoers were shot dead during bible study on June 17. AFP PHOTO/MLADEN ANTONOV (Photo credit should read MLADEN ANTONOV/AFP/Getty Images)
People attend a vigil at TD Arena for victims of the recent church shooting June 19, 2015 in Charleston, South Carolina. For someone reportedly bent on igniting a race war, Dylann Storm Roof had little to say for himself in the first of what will be many court appearances. The 21-year-old suspect in Wednesday night's massacre at an African-American church Bible study class spoke only to answer a judge's questions at a 14-minute bail hearing. AFP PHOTO/BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI (Photo credit should read BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP/Getty Images)
CHARLESTON, SC - JUNE 19: (L-R) Sisters Margaret Kerry, Mary Thecla and Kathleen Lang of the Order of the Daughters of St. Paul pray outside the historic Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church June 19, 2015 in Charleston, South Carolina. South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley called for the death penalty for Dylann Storm Roof, 21, of Lexington, South Carolina, if he is found guilty of murdering nine people during a prayer meeting at the church Wednesday night. Among the dead is the Rev. Clementa Pinckney, the pastor of the church which, according to the National Park Service, is the oldest black congregation in America south of Baltimore. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)
COLUMBIA, SC - JUNE 18: South Carolina State Senator Joel Lourie (L) comforts Gerald Malloy in the senate chambers June 18, 2015 in Columbia, South Carolina. Legislators gathered Thursday morning to honor their co-worker Clementa Pinckney and the eight others killed yesterday at Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, South Carolina. (Photo by Sean Rayford/Getty Images)
A man holds up a sign after a vigil outside Morris Brown AME Church June 18, 2015 in Charleston, South Carolina. US police on Thursday arrested a 21-year-old white gunman suspected of killing nine people at a prayer meeting in one of the nation's oldest black churches in Charleston, an attack being probed as a hate crime. The shooting at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in the southeastern US city was one of the worst attacks on a place of worship in the country in recent years, and comes at a time of lingering racial tensions. AFP PHOTO/BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI (Photo credit should read BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP/Getty Images)
People sit on the steps of Morris Brown AME Church while services are held June 18, 2015 in Charleston, South Carolina. US police on Thursday arrested a 21-year-old white gunman suspected of killing nine people at a prayer meeting in one of the nation's oldest black churches in Charleston, an attack being probed as a hate crime. The shooting at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in the southeastern US city was one of the worst attacks on a place of worship in the country in recent years, and comes at a time of lingering racial tensions. AFP PHOTO/BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI (Photo credit should read BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP/Getty Images)
People say a prayer outside Morris Brown AME Church during a vigil June 18, 2015 in Charleston, South Carolina. US police on Thursday arrested a 21-year-old white gunman suspected of killing nine people at a prayer meeting in one of the nation's oldest black churches in Charleston, an attack being probed as a hate crime. The shooting at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in the southeastern US city was one of the worst attacks on a place of worship in the country in recent years, and comes at a time of lingering racial tensions. AFP PHOTO/BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI (Photo credit should read BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP/Getty Images)
People sing 'We Shall Overcome' during a service at Morris Brown AME Church June 18, 2015 in Charleston, South Carolina. US police on Thursday arrested a 21-year-old white gunman suspected of killing nine people at a prayer meeting in one of the nation's oldest black churches in Charleston, an attack being probed as a hate crime. The shooting at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in the southeastern US city was one of the worst attacks on a place of worship in the country in recent years, and comes at a time of lingering racial tensions. AFP PHOTO/BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI (Photo credit should read BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP/Getty Images)
US Congressman Jeff Denham (C), R-California, prays with Senator Chris Coons (6th L), D-Deleware, Congresswoman Shelia Jackson Lee (5th L), D-Texas, Senator Chuck Grassley (4th L), R-Iowa, and Congressman Joe Wilson (3rd L), R-South Carolina, in front of the US Capitol in Washington, DC, June 18, 2015, during a moment of silence for the nine killed in a church shooting in Charleston, South Carolina. AFP PHOTO/JIM WATSON (Photo credit should read JIM WATSON/AFP/Getty Images)
US President Barack Obama speaks about the shooting deaths of nine people at a historic black church in Charleston, South Carolina, from the Brady Press Briefing Room of the White House in Washington, DC, June 18, 2015. AFP PHOTO / SAUL LOEB (Photo credit should read SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images)
A woman places flowers at a makeshift memorial near the Emanuel AME Church June 18, 2015 in Charleston, South Carolina, after a mass shooting at the Church on the evening of June 17, 2015. US police on Thursday arrested a 21-year-old white gunman suspected of killing nine people at a prayer meeting in one of the nation's oldest black churches in Charleston, an attack being probed as a hate crime. The shooting at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in the southeastern US city was one of the worst attacks on a place of worship in the country in recent years, and comes at a time of lingering racial tensions. AFP PHOTO/BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI (Photo credit should read BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP/Getty Images)
People visit a makeshift memorial near the Emanuel AME Church June 18, 2015 in Charleston, South Carolina, after a mass shooting at the Church on the evening of June 17, 2015. US police on Thursday arrested a 21-year-old white gunman suspected of killing nine people at a prayer meeting in one of the nation's oldest black churches in Charleston, an attack being probed as a hate crime. The shooting at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in the southeastern US city was one of the worst attacks on a place of worship in the country in recent years, and comes at a time of lingering racial tensions. AFP PHOTO/BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI (Photo credit should read BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP/Getty Images)
US Congressman Jeff Denham (C), R-California, prays with Senator Chris Coons (2nd L), D-Deleware, and Congresswoman Shelia Jackson Lee (L), D-Texas, in front of the US Capitol in Washington, DC, June 18, 2015, during a moment of silence for the nine killed in a church shooting in Charleston, South Carolina. AFP PHOTO/JIM WATSON (Photo credit should read JIM WATSON/AFP/Getty Images)
People visit a makeshift memorial near the Emanuel AME Church June 18, 2015 in Charleston, South Carolina, after a mass shooting at the Church on the evening of June 17, 2015. US police on Thursday arrested a 21-year-old white gunman suspected of killing nine people at a prayer meeting in one of the nation's oldest black churches in Charleston, an attack being probed as a hate crime. The shooting at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in the southeastern US city was one of the worst attacks on a place of worship in the country in recent years, and comes at a time of lingering racial tensions. AFP PHOTO/BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI (Photo credit should read BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP/Getty Images)
A woman prays at a makeshift memorial near the Emanuel AME Church June 18, 2015 in Charleston, South Carolina, after a mass shooting at the Church on the evening of June 17, 2015. US police on Thursday arrested a 21-year-old white gunman suspected of killing nine people at a prayer meeting in one of the nation's oldest black churches in Charleston, an attack being probed as a hate crime. The shooting at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in the southeastern US city was one of the worst attacks on a place of worship in the country in recent years, and comes at a time of lingering racial tensions. AFP PHOTO/BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI (Photo credit should read BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP/Getty Images)
US Congressman Jeff Denham (R), R-California, holds hands with Senator Chris Coons (2nd R), D-Deleware, and Congresswoman Shelia Jackson Lee (C), D-Texas, as they stand with Senator Chuck Grassley (2nd L), R-Iowa, and Congressman Joe Wilson (L), R-South Carolina, in front of the US Capitol in Washington, DC, June 18, 2015, during a moment of silence for the nine killed in a church shooting in Charleston, South Carolina. AFP PHOTO/JIM WATSON (Photo credit should read JIM WATSON/AFP/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - JUNE 18: Members of the US House ofÃRepresentatives and members of the US Senate and staff gather in a prayer circle in front of the US Capitol to honor those gunned down last night inside the historic Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston South Carolina, June 18, 2015 in Washington, DC. Police have arrestedÃDylann Roof, 21, of Lexington, South Carolina in the shooting that killed 9 people. (Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images)
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Richardson said Roof had been spreading his message before the shootings by publishing an online racist manifesto and writing in his journal about his hopes for a race war.

Sheppard and Felicia Sanders, who also survived along with her 11-year-old granddaughter, will testify against Roof, Richardson said.

Defense attorney David Bruck told jurors the facts of the crime were not in dispute and began laying the groundwork to argue for a life sentence rather than execution, asking the jury to focus on what factors drove Roof to commit an act that made no sense.

"By my count, (Roof) said, 'I had to do it' about 10 times. What does that suggest to you?" Bruck asked. "Watch carefully his dispassionate affect and ask yourself what that means."

Roof, who served as his own lawyer for about a week during jury selection, has told U.S. District Judge Richard Gergel he wants to act as his own counsel again during the sentencing phase of the trial.

He also will face the death penalty in his state murder trial, which is scheduled to begin early next year.

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