Attorney General Loretta Lynch today announced a federal hate crimes indictment against Charleston church shooting suspect Dylann Roof, but said no decision has been made on whether the feds will seek the death penalty.
The 33-count indictment, separate from the charges he faces in South Carolina in the massacre of nine people at the historic Emanuel AME Church, charges Roof with murder and attempted murder “because of their race and in order to interfere with their exercise of their religion.”
“As set forth in the indictment, several months prior to the tragic events of June 17, Roof conceived of his goal of increasing racial tensions throughout the nation and seeking retribution for perceived wrongs he believed African Americans had committed against white people,” Lynch said at a press conference today.
“To carry out these twin goals of fanning racial flames and exacting revenge, Roof further decided to seek out and murder African Americans because of their race. An essential element of his plan, however, was to find his victims inside of a church, specifically an African-American church, to ensure the greatest notoriety and attention to his actions.”
Lynch said Roof picked the church as his target “specifically because it was a historically African-American church of significance to the people of Charleston, of South Carolina and the nation.”
“On that summer evening, Dylann Roof found his targets, African-Americans engaged in worship. Met with welcome by the ministers of the church and its parishioners, he joined them in their Bible study group. The parishioners had Bibles. Dylann Roof had his .45-caliber Glock pistol and eight magazines loaded with hollow-point bullets. And as set forth in the indictment, while the parishioners of Mother Emanuel were engaged in religious worship and Bible study, Dylann Roof drew his pistol and opened fire on them, ultimately killing nine church members,” she said.
The attorney general stressed that South Carolina “does not have a hate crimes statute and as a result, the state charges do not reflect the alleged hate crime offenses presented in the federal indictment returned today.”
Roof is being charged under the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Hate Crimes Prevention Act, which “prohibits using a dangerous weapon to cause bodily injury, or attempting to do so, on the basis of race or color” and “was enacted specifically to vindicate the unique harms caused by racially motivated violence.”
He’s also charged under a second federal hate crimes statute that “prohibits the use or threat of force to obstruct any person’s free exercise of their religious beliefs.”
“Finally, Roof has been charged with multiple counts of using a firearm in the commission of these racially motivated murders and attempted murders,” Lynch said.
“For these crimes, Roof faces penalties of up to life imprisonment or the death penalty. No decision has been made on whether to seek the death penalty in this case. The department will follow our usual rigorous protocol to thoroughly consider all factual and legal issues relevant to that decision, which will necessarily involve counsel for the defendant Roof. In addition, consultation with the victims’ families is an important part of this decision making process and no decision will be made before conferring with them.”
The Justice Department opened its hate-crimes investigation on June 18, the day after the church slayings.