Dylann Roof to Face Death Penalty for Charleston Church Shooting


Prosecutors will seek the death penalty for Dylann Roof, the 21-year-old white South Carolinian who shot and killed nine black people in a racially motivated attack on a church in downtown Charleston, South Carolina, in June.

The Associated Press reports a South Carolina prosecutor filed papers Thursday saying she would pursue the death penalty, citing "the fact that more than two people were killed, and that others' lives were put at risk."

Attorneys and prosecutors in Roof's trial, slated to begin July 11, 2016, had until Aug. 20 to file any pretrial motions, including whether to ask that Roof face capital punishment, according to the Los Angeles Times

Seeking the death penalty: South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley had urged prosecutors to seek the death penalty for Roof. Capital punishment is legal in the state, and public support for the death penalty among South Carolinians has remained steady, despite losing support among Americans overall, according to the New Republic

During a court hearing in July, the prosecutor for Charleston County pursuing Roof's case, solicitor Scarlett Wilson, said it "has the potential for a capital case," however she did not indicate at the time whether she'd seek the death penalty, according to the Associated Press

"My first obligation, my primary obligation, is to these victims' families," Wilson told reporters, according to the Washington Post. "They deserve to know the facts first. They deserve to be involved in any conversations regarding the death penalty."

The charges: Roof is facing 33 federal hate crime and firearms charges in addition to more than a dozen state murder and attempted murder counts. Federal charges were needed to charge Roof with a hate crime because South Carolina doesn't have its own hate crime laws. Of the federal charges, 18 "could potentially carry the death penalty," the Los Angeles Times reported in July. 

Roof reportedly told his attorneys he wanted to plead guilty to the federal charges, however his lead defense attorney David Bruck said in July they would not advise him to do so "until we know whether the government will seek the death penalty."

On June 17, Roof attended a prayer service at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church, a historically African-American church significant for its role in the civil rights movement. Roof sat with 12 members of the church for roughly an hour before he opened fire. 

Investigators said Roof, who was arrested a day later, had confessed to the crimes and that he did it to incite a race war, according to CNN

Correction: Sept. 3, 2015