A survivor of the Charleston church slayings called 911 shortly after Dylann Roof opened fire and killed nine of her friends during a Bible study. Polly Sheppard’s call, played for jurors on Wednesday, starts with a prayer and a plea for help: “Please answer. Oh, God.”
When the recording ended, Sheppard staggered from the witness stand and several family members rushed to help her down the aisle and out of the courtroom as she stared blankly ahead.
Prosecutors rested their case in Roof’s federal death-penalty trial and his lawyers called no witnesses after the judge ruled that mental health experts, job applications and his academic record were irrelevant to whether Roof is guilty of attacking the church.
Roof’s attorneys have largely conceded there is no disputing the facts of the case and have instead tried to focus on whether he should face the death penalty or life in prison.
Roof, who is white, is charged with hate crimes in what prosecutors say was a racially motivated attack on nine black worshippers at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church. Jurors will hear closing arguments today.
In her testimony, Sheppard remembered something about each of the nine victims.
Sheppard recalled what happened June 17, 2015, when Roof came into Wednesday night Bible study, took the lesson from the church’s pastor, the Rev. Clementa Pinckney, and sat down beside him quietly for 45 minutes.
Sheppard said she dove under a table when the first shots were fired. She prayed out loud. Roof stopped, pointed his .45-calibur Glock at her and told her to shut up, she said.
Roof asked if he had shot her yet. Sheppard said no.
Roof said he wanted to leave her alive to tell the world why he attacked a historic African-American church.
“I have to. I have to,” Sheppard recalled Roof telling her. “You’re raping our women and taking over the nation.”
Roof then moved away. Sheppard grabbed Lance’s cellphone that tumbled near her and called 911. In between telling the operator what she knew, Sheppard prayed. “Help us, Lord. Please help us, Lord. Please Jesus, help us.”
Sheppard’s 911 call was the final evidence jurors heard before closing arguments today.