Dylann Roof, the suspected shooter in the June slaying of nine African-Americans in a historically black church in Charleston, South Carolina, was formally indicted Wednesday on federal hate crime charges. The Department of Justice announced that a federal grand jury returned a 33-count indictment, which included numerous hate crimes.
During a press conference, U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch alleged that Roof specifically sought out African-Americans at the historical Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in the June 17 shooting in order to gain notoriety for his racist beliefs.
"On that summer evening, Dylann Roof found his targets: African-Americans engaged in worship," Lynch said. Lynch was asked why Roof did not face domestic terrorism charges, to which she responded that there was no specific domestic terrorism statute. She also stressed the seriousness of hate crime charges, which she called the "original domestic terrorism."
BREAKING: Loretta Lynch announces 33-count federal grand jury indictment against Dylann Roof. http://t.co/LsEaaRR1Xo
— msnbc (@msnbc) July 22, 2015
If found guilty of the charges, Roof could face the death penalty, but it remained unclear if prosecutors would seek it out, Lynch said. Roof, 21, was already facing nine counts of murder and three counts of attempted murder at the state level.
The Post and Courier of Charleston first reported that the charges were imminent on Wednesday, citing multiple anonymous sources involved in the investigation. Roof stands accused of fatally shooting of nine worshippers participating in a Bible study at "Mother Emanuel" church. The New York Times reported that officials said a state murder case alone would have left the racial element of the case unaddressed.
Ninth Circuit Solicitor Scarlett Wilson said after the shooting that she planned to work with federal authorities on the case. “Make no mistake,” she said, according to the Post and Courier. “We are standing shoulder to shoulder, side by side, and we will work together through this prosecution.”
— Nigel Robertson (@thetopstoryWYFF) July 22, 2015
Local prosecutors cannot handle hate crime charges because South Carolina is one of five states that does not have a law on the books. Hate crime charges have long been in the works for Roof, who is white. He reportedly told local police he intended to start a "race war," and a manifesto purportedly written by Roof surfaced online, detailing the author's thoughts on numerous races. It called African-Americans "stupid and violent" and supported segregation. While not detailing an attack, the manifesto seemingly called for action.
"I have no choice. I am not in the position to, alone, go into the ghetto and fight," it read. "I chose Charleston because it is most historic city in my state, and at one time had the highest ratio of blacks to Whites in the country. We have no skinheads, no real KKK, no one doing anything but talking on the internet. Well someone has to have the bravery to take it to the real world, and I guess that has to be me."
Roof will be prosecuted under the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act of 2009, which was enacted after the 1998 hate-fueled murders of a gay college student in Wyoming and a black man in Texas, respectively. The act created a federal criminal law that penalizes willfully causing bodily injury because of race, color, religion, national origin, gender, sexual orientation, gender identity or disability of any person, according to the statute.