Feds to Seek Death Penalty Against Dylann Roof
Almost a year after shots rang out at a bible study class at a historic Charleston, S.C. church, killing nine people, federal prosecutors say they will seek the execution of Dylann Roof, who was arrested and charged in the gruesome slaying.
Attorney General Loretta Lynch announced Tuesday afternoon that the case of the 22-year-old, who prosecutors said attended the grouping at Mother Emanuel A.M.E. Church on June 17, 2015, carrying a loaded firearm with the intention to murder, moved the Justice Department to seek capital punishment.
“The nature of the alleged crime and the resulting harm compelled this decision,” Lynch said in a statement.
In the federal indictment against Roof, prosecutors said that he had purchased a Glock .45 caliber pistol and decided to attack African Americans. He had spent months deciding how and where to commit his assault, it said. He had also placed his racist beliefs online along with photos holding a confederate flag as well as the weapon. The indictment said that he picked the church because of its large Black congregation and its significance to the Charleston community.
The attack killed Emanuel’s pastor Rev. Clementa Pickney and eight others: Sharonda Coleman-Singleton, Cynthia Hurd, Susie Jackson, Ethel Lance, DePayne Middleton-Doctor, Tywanza Sanders Daniel Simmons Sr. and Myra Thompson.
Roof, who was indicted on 33 federal crimes, including hate crimes, had been waiting to hear about a federal trial for months, but Lynch postponed it four times as she considered the case. No date has yet been set for a federal trial, but one is expected soon. He pleaded not guilty to the federal charges last year.
Roof also faces state charges in South Carolina where he was indicted on 13 charges including murder and attempted murder. His trial in front of a jury there begins next January. State prosecutors are already seeking the death penalty in the case.
The families of the victims learned of Lynch’s decision during a conference call with U.S. Attorney Jay Richardson.
“The families will support this decision,” said Steve Schmutz, an attorney representing three of the slain victims families told the Charleston Post and Courier. “Really, I think the families have mixed emotions about the death penalty. But if it’s ever going to be given, this case certainly calls for it.”
However, the views of the victims family members differed.
“The government is taking a stand, saying this kind of crime won’t be tolerated in the United States of America, and when you do commit a crime you’ve got to take responsibility for your actions,” Kevin Singleton, whose mother Myra Thompason was among those killed, told the newspaper. “It’s a great message being sent by the government that this won’t be tolerated.”
But Rev. Sharon Risher, daughter of Ethel Lance, who was also killed opposes the death penalty, pointing to scripture: “Vengeance is mine; I will repay, saith the Lord.”
The case is unique in that both federal and state prosecutors will be seeking capital punishment concurrently. “It’s remarkable that they have not worked that out in (Roof’s) case,” said Chris Adams, an attorney familiar with death penalty cases told the Post and Courier.. “This is the first case where you’re going to have competing capital prosecutions.”