The Justice Department is pushing for a death sentence for the white man accused of murdering nine black people at a historic church in Charleston, South Carolina, last year, an incident that dredged up a host of issues involving racism and guns.
“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,” said U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch in a statement Tuesday. “The nature of the alleged crime and the resulting harm compelled this decision.”
In court documents, prosecutors involved in the case cited two offenses that carry a possible death sentence. They include obstruction of exercise of religion by force resulting in death, and use of a firearm to commit murder during and in relation to a crime of violence.
“Dylann Storm Roof has expressed hatred and contempt towards African Americans, as well as other groups, and his animosity towards African Americans played a role in the murders charged in the indictment,” reads the seven-page document.
The document adds that Roof targeted men and women participating in a Bible-study group at the Emanuel AME Church in order to magnify the societal impact of the offenses.”
Last June, Roof attended a prayer service at the Emanuel AME Church in downtown Charleston and after an hour sitting with congregants, he opened fire. Roof was arrested the next morning at a traffic stop about 150 north, in Shelby, North Carolina. He later confessed that he hoped the massacre would ignite a race war.
A month later, Roof was charged with 33 federal charges including 12 hate crimes. In September, state prosecutors also said they would push for the death penalty because Roof killed more than two people. South Carolina does not have a hate crime law.
Last summer, Roof’s attorney said he was willing to enter a guilty plea in exchange for a sentence of life in prison. But until Tuesday, 15 days before lawyers were scheduled to discuss the case in open court, it was not clear how the Justice Department would proceed.
A date for Roof’s federal trial has not been set. His state court trial is expected to begin in January.