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US church shooter pleads guilty to state murder charges

© AFP/File | Two children pray near flowers and cards left in condolence outside one of the oldest black churches in the United States, where white supremacist Dylann Roof went on a shooting rampage in June 2015, killing nine

MIAMI (AFP) - 

White supremacist Dylann Roof pleaded guilty Monday to state charges in the killing of nine black churchgoers in South Carolina, three months after being handed a death sentence for the crime at the federal level.

The 23-year-old was given life in prison in exchange for the guilty plea, sparing survivors and the families of the victims a second emotional trial.

The state-level punishment comes on top of a death sentence from a federal court. Roof had been convicted of 33 federal charges -- including hate crimes resulting in death -- in connection with the June 2015 shooting rampage at the historic Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in downtown Charleston.

Dressed in a striped jumpsuit, Roof gave the court his guilty plea after the judge spelled out the terms of the agreement.

Prior to the sentencing, relatives and friends of the victims gave a second round of testimony.

"This situation has tested our faith in every way possible," said Melvin Graham, the brother of slain victim Cynthia Hurd.

"We hope that today we truly close the chapter for these victims," said Prosecutor Scarlett Wilson.

Roof had been unrepentant throughout his federal trial.

In a note confiscated from Roof in prison in August 2015, he wrote that he was "not sorry."

"I have not shed a tear for the innocent people I killed," the notes said.

The mass murder that shocked US and international publics occurred at the church "Mother Emanuel" after Roof participated in an evening Bible study class.

The church is one of the oldest black congregations in the American South, with strong links to the fight against slavery and segregation.

Capital punishment rarely is meted out in federal cases, in part because violent crimes more typically are tried under state laws. Federal authorities have executed only three criminals since 1976.

Roof is expected to soon be transferred to a federal penitentiary as he awaits execution. It could take years before the death sentence is carried out.

© 2017 AFP