US & Canada

Church massacre accused Dylann Roof to praying woman: 'Shut up'

Felicia Sanders & Polly Sheppard (L) each spoke at the 2016 Democratic convention
Image caption Charleston church massacre survivors Polly Sheppard (L) and Felicia Sanders at the 2016 Democratic party convention

A survivor of last year's massacre at a South Carolina church has told a jury how the gunman told her to shut up as she prayed during the shooting.

Polly Sheppard, 72, referred to the accused, Dylann Roof, as "the young man" during 40 minutes of testimony.

She said: "I was praying out loud. He told me to shut up. He asked if he shot me yet. I said no. He said I'm going to leave you to tell the story."

Prosecutors have rested their case against the 22-year-old defendant.

The accused, who could face the death penalty, briefly approached the judge on Wednesday to tell the court he was invoking his right to not testify.

Image copyright AP
Image caption Roof has described himself as a white supremacist and maintained a racist blog

Clutching a tissue, Ms Sheppard spent half of her testimony speaking about each of the nine victims of the attack in Charleston on 17 June 2015.

She told the court how wounded members of the 12-strong Bible-study group implored the gunman to stop the rampage, as he turned to tell her to be quiet.

Mr Roof - who allegedly fired 77 bullets - stared down at the table throughout Ms Sheppard's testimony, never glancing at the witness.

Jurors also heard Ms Sheppard's frantic 911 call to emergency services, made using the bloody mobile phone of her dying friend, Ethel Lance.

Image caption Six of the victims, clockwise from top left: Rev Clementa Pinckney, Susie Jackson, Rev Sharonda Singleton, Tywanza Sanders, Rev Daniel Simmons, Depayne Middleton-Doctor

"Please, Emanuel church," she gasped.

"People shot. Please send right away!"

The police operator instructed her to stay quiet and not to hang up as she begged: "He's coming. He's coming. Please!"

Ms Sheppard described to the court how she normally did not attend the evening Bible-study sessions.

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Media captionUS church gunman: 'I did it'

But she said she went at the request of her friend, Myra Thompson, who was leading the study group for her first time.

Ms Thompson was among the dead.

Closing arguments will be heard on Thursday.

Mr Roof's attorneys have not mounted a legal defence, and will instead focus on sparing him the death penalty.

They will make that argument in the punishment phase of the trial, which begins on 3 January.

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