Modern technology in the form of a 360-degree camera allowed jurors and a packed federal courtroom Thursday to take a walking tour through the body-strewn slaughterhouse of “Mother Emanuel” AME church’s once proud downstairs fellowship hall.
Nine African-American parishioners, including beloved pastor and state Sen. Clementa Pinckney and equally beloved 87-year-old Susie Jackson, were slain there during a Bible study in June 2015 by a Columbia area man prosecutors say was on a white supremacist-fueled rampage.
The scenes of bullet holes, lifeless bodies, trails and pools of blood and empty Glock bullet magazines scattered around Emanuel’s fellowship hall were recorded by SLED crime scene investigators just hours after the execution-like slayings to depict what the crime scene looked like before the bodies were moved.
The images were so horrific that before the showing, U.S. Judge Richard Gergel called a 10-minute recess to give the audience a chance to leave, warning, “This may be too much to see.” Few left.
The scenario showed photos taken by one of SLED’s $125,000 Faro cameras that seamlessly stitched the images together, and was narrated by Brittany Burke, a former SLED crime scene investigator who now works in Tennessee.
Sighs and deep breathing could be heard from victims’ relatives and friends in the courtroom as Burke dispassionately showed the bodies of Pinckney, lying somewhat curled, face down on the linoleum floor, then Jackson, curled up and only partially visible half-under a table, and other victims.
Pinckney, known for his good cheer and marked as a rising star in state political and religious circles, had been shot three times; Jackson, 11. The frail elderly woman, a favorite of all at the church, was known for the care she showed to everyone, young and old, according to earlier testimony.
During the showing, several family members of victims left the room, including one man who ran out.
“The cartridge cases were scattered all around – an indication of somebody would have been moving while they were shooting,” Burke said in response to questions by assistant U.S. Attorney Nathan Williams.
But cartridge cases were only part of what Burke described as an “overwhelming amount of evidence,” 117 pieces in all. It included 74 bullets or bullet fragments, six empty Glock magazines and one magazine with four unfired bullets.
At one point, SLED agents ran out of numerous yellow markers they used to mark where evidence lay, so they used index cards as markers. Bullets had struck floors and walls and chairs, pierced tablecloths draped over circular tables where victims had sought refuge, and even smashed one cell phone.
It took SLED investigators more than eight hours to go through the scene, which didn’t include the 54 bullets and bullet fragments pathologists took from the nine victims’ bodies later that day, Burke testified.
On Friday, the jury is expected to see a two-hour confession Roof made to the FBI shortly after he was taken into custody in Shelby, N.C., a day after the shootings.