U.S. v. Dylann Roof: Justice Dept. to Seek Death Penalty for Charleston Killings

By Sheryl Estrada

Dylann Roof

The U.S. Department of Justice has decided to seek the death penalty against Dylann Roof, who stands accused of opening fire on June 17, 2015, during Bible study at the Charleston, South Carolina, historic Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church. Nine Black church members were killed, including the pastor, South Carolina State Senator Clementa Pinckney.

“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,” Attorney General Loretta E. Lynch said in a statement Tuesday regarding the United States v. Dylann Roof. “The nature of the alleged crime and the resulting harm compelled this decision.”

Related Story: 9 Members of Historic Black Church Killed in Hate Crime, Suspect Caught

In addition, Roof, who was caught and arrested on June 18, also faces the death penalty in state court. The trial is scheduled to begin in January.

According to The Post and Courier, seeking the death penalty has been rare for the federal government since it reinstated capital punishment:

“Of thousands of eligible cases since then, the U.S. Attorney’s Office has authorized prosecutors to seek execution in about 500. [Roof’s case] is especially unusual, experts said, because state prosecutors had already announced plans to seek Roof’s execution in their separate case against him.”

The 22-year-old faces 33 federal charges including hate crimes, firearms violations and obstructing the practice of religion. A trial date has not yet been scheduled.

There is no possibility of a plea deal in either the state or federal case, unless prosecutors change their plans.

During a press conference in July to announce federal hate crime chargesagainst Roof,Lynch said the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division deduced he specifically targeted Blacks for death because of their race and planned to do so while they were in religious worship. She said Roof chose a historically Black church for its “significance to Charleston, South Carolina, and the nation.”

Related Story: Charleston, S.C.: A Millennial’s Perspective on Racism in Her City

A website registered in Roof’s name went public in June. It featured photos of him at Confederate heritage sites and an almost 2,500-word racist manifesto. The author of the manifesto also wrote, “I have never been the same since,” after finding theCouncil of Conservative Citizens, a White Nationalist group, website through a Google search. Survivors of the shooting in Charleston said Roof yelled racial slurs during the attack. Authorities have also stated that Roof said he wanted to start arace war.

“Racially motivated crimes such as this is the original domestic terrorism,” Lynch said in July. “The parishioners had Bibles. Dylann Roof had his .45-caliber Glock pistol, and eight magazines loaded with hollow-point bullets.”

Roof’s association with the Confederate flag prompted the public and many officials to call for its removal from South Carolina’s Capitol grounds.

In June President Barack Obama gave a eulogy for Pinckney, during which he explained why theConfederate battle flagneeded to be removed.

“For many, Black and white, that flag was a reminder of systemic oppression and racial subjugation,”he said. “We see that now.”

The flag was removed from the Capitol grounds on July 10, and states such as Alabama have done the same, while other states, like Mississippi, still debate the issue.

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