The accused Charleston church shooter now faces federal hate crime charges for allegedly targeting his victims on the basis of their race and religion.
“We think that this is exactly the type of case that the federal hate crimes statutes were, in fact, conceived of to cover,” U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch said Wednesday as she announced that a federal grand jury had indicted Dylann Roof. “Racially motivated violence such as this is the original domestic terrorism.”
The grand jury’s indictment charges Roof with 33 counts, including federal hate crime and firearms charges, Lynch said.
South Carolina does not have a hate crime law, Lynch said. Roof, 21, already faces a number of state charges in connection with the June 17 Bible study attack at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church.
Nine people were killed, including the Rev. Clementa Pinckney, who also was a state senator.
“Mother Emanuel was his destination specifically because it was an historically African-American church of significance to the people of Charleston, of South Carolina and to the nation,” Lynch said. “On that summer evening, Dylann Roof found his targets, African-Americans engaged in worship.”
The church’s ministers and parishioners welcomed him into their Bible study group, Lynch said. And once Roof’s alleged plan became clear, the attorney general told reporters, it was far from a fair fight.
“The parishioners had Bibles,” Lynch said. “Dylann Roof had his .45-caliber Glock pistol and eight magazines loaded with hollow point bullets.”
Roof spent months plotting the attack, Lynch said.
“He was looking for the type of church and the type of of parishioners whose death would, in fact, draw great notoriety for … his racist views,” she said.
If he’s found guilty of the federal charges, Roof faces life imprisonment or the death penalty. Lynch said there has been no decision yet on whether to seek the death penalty in the case.
Roof’s state trial is scheduled to start July 11, 2016.
It isn’t clear yet when the federal trial would begin.
“Both cases will proceed through the court system,” Lynch said. “We’ll both work to reduce any unnecessary burden to the families.”
Roof’s attorneys did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the federal indictment.
He was captured in North Carolina the day after the attack and was brought back to South Carolina. Law enforcement officials have said he admitted to the killings.