— -- Families of the Charleston church shooting victims -- and the grandfather of the convicted killer -- spoke out in court today as Dylann Roof pleaded guilty to all state charges against him.
As Roof's grandfather Joe Roof, a longtime real estate lawyer in Columbia, South Carolina, addressed the court for the first time today, he said, "Dylann is not all bad."
His grandson, who is white, has already been convicted of hate crimes in a federal case and has been sentenced to death for the murders of nine black parishioners at the Emanuel AME Church in June 2015.
"We’re sorry," Joe Roof said, adding, "We have been distressed and just sick over what has happened to these families."
"My wife and I have them in our prayers every night, every meal," Joe Roof said.
"What happened here I will never understand," he added. "I will go to my grave not understanding."
Joe Roof said he's lost his grandson, who turned 23 last week, and said today is likely the last time he will see him. "I'm just aching to hold him and hug him as I did when he was a tot," he said.
He added: "The system which I worked in almost 60 years now and believe in seems to have worked as it should have worked."
Family members of Roof's nine victims also spoke.
Nadine Collier, daughter of victim Ethel Lance, who was thrust into the spotlight after she told Dylann Roof she forgave him at his bond hearing less than 48 hours after the shooting, said today she still forgives him and now she is moving on.
"Today I wanted to address the court. I wanted to say to Dylann Roof I’m the one that forgave you in the bond hearing, and I still do today," Collier said.
"He came here to start a battle -- but I win the war," Collier continued. "I wore white today to let everybody know the chapter in my life right now today is closed. I will not open that book again. And I just want to say have mercy on your soul."
Melvin Graham, brother of victim Cynthia Hurd, was emotional as he spoke in court, saying he wanted to let Hurd speak for herself. Graham read an email that Hurd sent to their sister in 2013; Graham said Hurd sent the email when their sister was having a difficult time handling the death of their parents.
In the email, which Graham read aloud, Hurd said that Easter was her favorite holiday because it reminded her that death is not forever and they will have the chance to be reunited one day.
Blondell Gadsden, sister of victim Myra Thompson, said to the court of Dylann Roof, "Even though we're at a point where death has been the sentence for him, my heart still goes out to him in hopes that he would repent to save himself from himself."
"I can't think of anything worse that he could do at this point than to not accept Christ and try to make his days on this earth a little bit more peaceful," Gadsden added. "I come here today not to do anything more than to thank the court system and on behalf of my family say that we are pleased with everything that has been done."
Dylann Roof, who was sentenced to death in January in his federal trial, today pleaded guilty to all state charges, including nine counts of murder and three counts of attempted murder, instead of going through a second trial.
Dylann Roof's guilty plea in state court was in exchange for life in prison without the possibility of parole.
Ninth Circuit Solicitor Scarlett Wilson said the mission for the guilty plea was to get the "surest path to Dylann Roof's execution" in connection with the federal trial.