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US Church Shooting Suspect Pleads Not Guilty

  • VOA News

Dylann Roof appears at a court hearing in Charleston, South Carolina, July 16, 2015.

Dylann Roof appears at a court hearing in Charleston, South Carolina, July 16, 2015.

The man charged with the shooting deaths of nine African-American churchgoers in Charleston, South Carolina has pleaded not guilty to 33 federal charges.

Dylann Roof entered the plea Friday during a brief arraignment in a federal court in Charleston, even as his defense attorney said Roof wants to plead guilty.

The attorney, David Bruck, said he could not advise his client to plead guilty until prosecutors say whether or not they will seek the death penalty. Roof is still able to change his plea at a later date if he chooses.

Roof faces federal charges including hate crimes and obstructing the practice of religion. He also faces murder and attempted murder counts in the state of South Carolina.

Neither federal or state prosecutors have decided whether they will seek the death penalty if Roof is convicted.

Also during Friday's hearing, some of the victims' family members made statements to the court.

Roof sat quietly in the courtroom, speaking only to answer "yes" several times in response to the judge's questions.

The 21-year-old Roof, who is white, was indicted on the federal hate crime charges last week, about a month after the shootings at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston.

Roof appeared in photos waving Civil War-era Confederate flags, and survivors said he made racist remarks during the attack.

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