CHARLESTON, SC (WIS) - The trial of accused Mother Emanuel AME Church shooter Dylann Roof began with the dramatic testimony of one of the survivors of the racially-charged rampage that ended with nine parishioners dead in Charleston in June 2015.
Felicia Sanders, the mother of Tywanza Sanders, one of the victims in the case, took the stand for prosecutors on Wednesday and described the moments when state and federal investigators said Roof pulled out a gun and opened fire during Bible study at one of South Carolina's oldest African-American churches on that hot June afternoon.
Sanders said Roof entered the church and asked if Bible study was taking place. Rev. Clementa Pinckney, one of the other victims, said yes, and gave Roof a copy of the Bible and a seat next to him.
But Sanders noted Roof had a look on his face during the entire time.
"He just sat there the whole time," Sanders said. "Evil. Evil as can be."
At the moment the people inside the church that day closed their eyes for prayer, Sanders said that's when Roof opened fire.
"A loud sound went off," Sanders said. "I screamed, 'He has a gun!' By then, he had already shot Rev. Pinckney."
Sanders fell to the ground as she said Roof sprayed bullets all over the room. "It sounded almost like a machine gun," she recalled.
Sanders said she heard her son stand up and ask Roof why he was opening fire.
"The defendant over there, who refuses to look at me right now," Sanders said, "said he had to do this."
Sanders was able to grab and clutch onto her granddaughter as she said Roof continued his shooting spree. She told her grandchild to play dead was the shooting ended.
"I muzzled her face to my body," Sanders said. "I thought I suffocated her."
After the shooting ended, Sanders said she got up to tend to her son, who had been shot five times. She said she could not get him to stay still.
"I watched my son come into this world," Sanders said, "and I watched him leave this world."
"I said, 'I love you, Tywanza.' He said, 'I love you, too, mama.' Then, I watched my son die."
When cross-examined by the defense, Sanders said Roof told her he intended to take his own life. She told Bruck, if Roof did do that, he'd go straight to the "pit of Hell."
Roof was in the courtroom Wednesday as a final jury was seated in his trial. Roof is facing a 33-count federal indictment. He's also facing the possibly of being sentenced to death.
The government was first up with opening statements, giving a graphic, descriptive account of the incident and its aftermath.
Prosecutor Jay Richardson told the graphic story of the night of the massacre and said that Roof acted with malice and hatred and drove from Columbia to Charleston that day with a Glock .45 caliber handgun along with eleven rounds in eight magazines – 88 bullets in all. The government said he fired most of those during the Bible study after the parishioners stood up to pray with eyes closed.
Roof's defense, David Bruck, says he doesn't dispute Roof committed the crime and said he believes his client will be found guilty. However, it's apparent he's trying to save Roof from the death penalty in the possible penalty phase of this trial.