Attorney General Loretta Lynch publicly stated on Tuesday that the Justice Department will seek the death penalty against Dylann Roof, the suspected perpetrator of the racially-motivated Charleston church shootings that occurred almost a year ago.
Roof will face two death penalty trials—one in a South Carolina court, and one in federal court. Roof’s indictment includes federal hate crime charges and 33 counts for nine murders, three attempted murders, and multiple firearms offenses, according to news sources.
The New York Times recounted the mass murder Roof, a vocal white supremacist, allegedly committed on June 17, 2015:
Mr. Roof, a 22-year-old white supremacist, was arrested in North Carolina 14 hours after the shooting at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal church, which claimed the lives of nine people ages 26 to 87, including the pastor, Rev. Clementa C. Pinckney, 41, a prominent state senator. Law enforcement officials have said Mr. Roof sat in Bible study with the victims for almost an hour before the mass shooting began.
While NYT also noted that a federal grand jury determined Roof’s 33-count indictment roughly 10 months ago, Lynch’s statement marks the first time the death penalty has been officially brought to the table.
“On that summer evening, Dylann Roof found his targets, African Americans engaged in worship,” Lynch said on May 24. “The parishioners had Bibles. Dylann Roof had his 45-caliber Glock pistol and eight magazines loaded with hollow point bullets,” which he used to “[open] fire on them.”
“Following the department’s rigorous review process to thoroughly consider all relevant factual and legal issues, I have determined the Justice Department will seek the death penalty,” she added. “The nature of the alleged crime and the resulting harm compelled this decision.”
South Carolina prosecutor Scarlett A. Wilson has also stated that she will seek the death penalty during Roof’s state trial.
According to his defense lawyer David Bruck, Roof previously told his legal team that “he wishes to plead guilty.” As of now, it is unknown as to whether Roof will carry out this intention in light of Lynch’s announcement.
Update (9:08 p.m EST): This article initially stated that the shootings took place in North Carolina, not South Carolina. This has since been corrected. Roof was, however, arrested in North Carolina after the shootings took place.
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