Federal prosecutors to seek death penalty against accused Charleston church shooter

Prosecutors to seek death penalty against Dylann Roof

CHARLESTON, SC (WCSC) - Federal prosecutors say they will seek the death penalty for accused Charleston church shooter Dylann Roof.

That announcement came in court documents filed Tuesday afternoon.

Roof is accused of killing nine parishioners of Mother Emanuel AME Church on June 17 after a Bible study. Among the victims were the church's pastor, State Sen. and the Rev. Clementa Pinckney.

Attorney General Loretta Lynch released the following statement regarding the federal case:

"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.  The nature of the alleged crime and the resulting harm compelled this decision."

Malcolm Graham, brother of Cynthia Hurd who was killed in the shooting, released the following statement after Lynch's announcement:

"This was a crime of hate. There's no room in our society for hate, racism and discrimination. Racism is America's Achilles' heel and we must work tirelessly to eradicate it. It starts with how we teach our children and how we lead by example, putting kindness above all else. It starts in places in our community like libraries and churches – the places my sister Cynthia felt most at home. I believe the man who killed my sister and eight other innocent people – after being welcomed into their prayer circle –  should be punished to the fullest extent of the law. I support U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch's decision to seek the death penalty for the perpetrator of this most heinous crime."

The death penalty will be sought for the offenses of obstruction of exercise of religion by force resulting in death and use of a firearm to commit murder during and in retaliation to a crime of violence, court documents state.

The factors prosecutors say they will prove to warrant the death penalty include intentional killing, intention infliction of serious bodily injury, intentional participation in acts resulting in death and intentional engagement in acts of violence knowing the acts created a grave risk of death to a person, the documents state.

Statutory aggravating factors will include multiple killings, substantial planning and premeditation, and vulnerable victim, the documents state.

Three of the victims were considered vulnerable "due to old age," the court documents state.

MOBILE USERS: Click here to see photos of the victims.

Non-statutory aggravating factors include the attempt to incite violence, victim impact, endangering the safety of others, racially-motivated killing, and selection of victims.

Lynch announced 33 federal charges against Roof on July 22.

Roof faces nine counts of murder and three counts of attempted murder under the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act, which prohibits using a dangerous weapon to cause bodily injury or attempting to do so based on race or color.

He is also charged with nine counts of murder and three counts of attempted murder under a second federal hate crime statute that prohibits the use or threat of force to obstruct any person's free exercise of their religious beliefs.

The remaining nine counts are charges of the use of a firearm to commit murder during and in relation to a crime of violence, the federal indictment states.

In addition to Pinckney, the other victims were Cynthia Hurd, Reverend Sharonda Coleman-Singleton, Tywanza Sanders, DePayne Middleton Doctor, Ethel Lance, the Reverend Daniel Simmons, Susie Jackson and Myra Thompson.

Roof was captured in North Carolina the day after the attack and was brought back to South Carolina.

Law enforcement officials say he admitted to the killings and said he wanted to start a race war.

In addition to the federal charges, Roof faces 13 state charges charges in the shooting. Those charges include nine counts of murder, three counts of attempted murder and a weapons charge.

No date has been set for the federal trial as yet, however a status hearing is scheduled in June.

Roof's state death penalty is scheduled for Jan. 17, 2017.

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