Bishop opposes death sentence for Charleston church killer

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Bishop Robert Guglielmone of Charleston, South Carolina, talks to Barbara Thompson while she waits in the heat outside the South Carolina Statehouse in Columbia 24 June 2015. Inside the Capitol the body of the Rev Clementa Pinckney, a pastor and state senator, lay in state. The pastor of Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston was one of nine people shot and killed at the church on 17 June. Photo: CNS

The bishop in the local area of one of America’s most horrifying, racially-motivated killings has re-iterated his opposition to the death penalty after the perpetrator was sentenced to death.

Jurors unanimously agreed to sentence Dylann Roof to death for killing nine black churchgoers on 17 June 2015.

In closing statements before the deliberation on 10 January, the unrepentant 22-year-old told jurors that “I still feel like I had to do it,” the Associated Press reported.

The Bishop of Charleston, Bishop Robert Guglielmone said in a statement that the Catholic Church opposes capital punishment and reminded people that all life is sacred.

“We are all sinners, but through the father’s loving mercy and Jesus’ redeeming sacrifice upon the cross, we have been offered the gift of eternal life. The Catholic opposition to the death penalty, therefore, is rooted in God’s mercy. The Church believes the right to life is paramount to every other right as it affords the opportunity for conversion, even of the hardened sinner,” Bishop Guglielmone said.

“Sentencing Dylann Roof to death conflicts with the Church’s teaching that all human life is sacred, even for those who have committed the most heinous of crimes. Instead of pursuing death, we should be extending compassion and forgiveness to Mr. Roof, just as some of the victims’ families did at his bond hearing in June 2015,” the bishop added.

The jury had to reach a unanimous decision to sentence Roof to death. Had they disagreed, he would have been automatically sentenced to life in prison. He was convicted of 33 federal charges last month, including hate crimes. Roof acted as his own attorney and did not question any witnesses. In his FBI confession, he said he hoped the massacre would bring back segregation or start a race war, the Associated Press reported.

Bishop Guglielmone offered prayers of support for those who were killed and their families.

“Our Catholic faith sustains our solidarity with and support for the victims of the Emanuel AME Church massacre and their relatives. We commit ourselves to walk with these family members as well as the survivors as they continue to heal from the trial and this tragedy,” he said.

The bishop asked people to continue to pray for the victims, survivors and families connected with the shooting. He also encouraged people to pray for Roof and his family.

“May he acknowledge his sins, convert to the Lord and experience his loving mercy,” Bishop Guglielmone said.

The Rev Clementa Pinckney, pastor of Emanuel AME Church, Tywanza Sanders, the Rev Sharonda Singleton, the Rev DePayne Middleton-Doctor, the Rev Daniel Simmons Sr, the Rev Cynthia Hurd, Myra Thompson, Ethel Lance, and Susie Jackson were killed in the shooting. [Eternal rest grant unto them, O Lord.]