The Justice Department intends to seek the death penalty against Dylann Roof, the man charged with killing nine black parishioners last year in a church in Charleston, South Carolina, Attorney General Loretta Lynch said Tuesday.
“The nature of the alleged crime and the resulting harm compelled this decision,” Lynch said in a brief statement that said the department had considered “all relevant factual and legal issues.”
Roof is awaiting trial on federal hate crime charges in connection with the June 17 shooting at Emanuel AME Church. The incident fueled a national conversation about race relations and led to the removal of a Confederate battle flag from the South Carolina Statehouse. Roof is also charged with nine counts of murder in state court, and South Carolina prosecutors have already announced plans to seek the death penalty when he stands trial in January. Solicitor Scarlett Wilson has said she wants her case to be tried first. Federal prosecutors said Roof was motivated by racial hatred and a desire to commit a “notorious attack” when he opened fire inside the church.
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. He pleaded not guilty to the federal charges last year.
“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,” Lynch said at the time.
Though the Justice Department says it’s committed to seeking the death penalty, federal executions are exceedingly rare. The last time a federal defendant was put to death was in 2003. And President Barack Obama has said he’s “deeply concerned” about the death penalty’s implementation.