On Tuesday, federal prosecutors announced that Dylann Roof, the man charged with killing nine black parishioners almost a year ago in a South Carolina church, will face the death penalty.
The Washington Post reports that Roof, 22, faces 33 federal charges after he allegedly entered the Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, on June 17, 2015, and opened fire on churchgoers. According to U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch, the Justice Department decided on the death penalty against Roof due to the the nature of the crime and the subsequent harm it brought about. According to a Tuesday written statement by Lynch,
“Following the department’s rigorous review process to thoroughly consider all relevant factual and legal issues, I have determined that the Justice Department will seek the death penalty. The nature of the alleged crime and the resulting harm compelled this decision.”
Last year, Lynch announced the 33 charges filed against Roof, which include:
- Nine murders
- Three attempted murders
- Federal hate crimes (South Carolina doesn’t have a state hate crime law)
- Numerous federal firearms charges
After a South Carolina grand jury indicted Roof for murder, federal charges followed. Federal authorities got involved with the case shortly after the shootings. Within hours, Lynch began questioning whether the crime was carried out for racial reasons, given that every person killed was black. According to Lynch,
“On that summer evening, Dylann Roof found his targets, African Americans engaged in worship. The parishioners had Bibles. Dylann Roof had his 45-caliber Glock pistol and eight magazines loaded with hollow point bullets… Dylann Roof drew his pistol and opened fire on them.”
Authorities stated that Roof walked into Emanuel AME Church and sat among churchgoers, all of whom welcomed him, for around an hour before he pulled out a handgun and began shooting. The next day, Roof, a white high school dropout who previously bragged to friends about “carrying out something big,” was caught in North Carolina. During questioning conducted by the Charleston police and FBI, Roof confessed to the killings and admitted that he wanted to start a race war.
The nine churchgoers who lost their lives include:
- Cynthia Marie Graham Hurd, 54
- Susie Jackson, 87
- Ethel Lee Lance, 70
- Depayne Middleton-Doctor, 49
- Clementa C. Pinckney, 41
- Tywanza Sanders, 26
- Daniel Simmons, 74
- Sharonda Coleman-Singleton, 45
- Myra Thompson, 59
Prosecutors wrote that the ages of three of the elderly victims were taken into account when determining if Roof should face the death penalty. Other factors that influenced the decision included the argument that Roof “demonstrated a lack of remorse,” specifically targeting a group of defenseless churchgoers, and “his animosity towards African Americans.”
The Justice Department spent numerous months trying to decide if Roof should face the death penalty, which resulted in his trial being delayed on several occasions. State prosecutors had previously announced that they planned to seek the death penalty, but the state trial was also pushed back after Roof’s lawyers said they needed additional time to prepare.
Last summer, Roof’s attorney, David Bruck, said he couldn’t advise his client to plead guilty to felony hate crimes until he knew if they were seeking the death penalty. In turn, a judged entered in a temporary “not guilty” plea for Roof while federal prosecutors decided if they were going to recommend the death penalty.
On Tuesday, Bruck didn’t immediately comment on federal prosecutors’ decision. It’s still undetermined how the death penalty decision will impact Dylan Roof’s plea. In some instances, a guilty plea in capital cases can be a way to avoid the death penalty.
After his arrest, Dylann Roof was held without bail. He remains behind bars at the Charleston County jail, in a 24-hour guarded cell, where jail staff reportedly check on him regularly.
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