Hate crime charge: Dylan Roof Hate Crime Charge

Published: July 22, 2015

Hate crime charge: Dylan Roof Hate Crime Charge, When Dylann Roof sat down next to state Sen. Clementa Pinckney last month, the 21-year-old white man wasn’t there to listen to the Bible study going on that night; he was there to kill people because of their race, according to federal court documents, and he had chosen their historic Charleston worship hall, Emanuel AME Church, to ensure notoriety for the mass murder he was about to carry out.

He revealed a .45-caliber Glock pistol and fired hollow-point rounds that have a particularly deadly mushrooming effect on their targets. He had come carrying eight pistol magazines packed with the bullets.

As a result, a federal indictment alleged Wednesday that Roof carried out a hate crime against the 12 black people and prevented them from freely exercising their religion. The sweeping 33-count indictment, dubbed by legal scholars as unprecedented in modern American history, laid the groundwork for the federal prosecutors to seek the death penalty against Roof.

The findings by the Columbia-based grand jury also made the Eastover man a defendant in one of the deadliest racially motivated attacks since the civil rights era, and it marked the federal government’s interest in pursuing justice for the nine people slain June 17 at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church on Calhoun Street.

“Several months prior to the tragic events, Roof conceived his goal of increasing racial tensions and seeking retribution for perceived wrongs that he believed African-Americans have committed against white people,” U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch said in announcing the indictment from Washington. “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. … Racially motivated violence such as this is the original domesticated terrorism.”

How federal and state prosecutors would coordinate the prosecution in two different court venues was not immediately clear. Roof was indicted earlier this month by a Charleston County grand jury on nine counts of murder, three of attempted murder and a firearms charge. Attorneys in state court also have handled it as a potential death penalty case.

While neither federal nor state prosecutors have decided whether to pursue the ultimate punishment, Wednesday’s indictment hinted at federal prosecutors’ intentions to seek the death penalty. Citing U.S. laws on the death penalty, it stated that Roof intentionally targeted vulnerable people and meant to kill “more than one person in a single criminal episode.”

Lynch indicated that both governments would pursue their cases simultaneously and assess how state and federal judges handle each one, but she noted that the state charges do not reflect the alleged hate crimes presented in this week’s indictment.

In federal court, Roof is charged with 12 violations of the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act and 12 counts under the Church Arson Prevention Act of 1996. The 12 counts under each law represent the nine people who were slain and the three who survived the attack.

Each of the nine murder counts under the church arson law make Roof eligible for the death penalty.

He also faces nine charges related to using a firearm to commit murder.

“This is a very novel situation,” Miller Shealy, a professor at the Charleston School of Law who has served as a prosecutor in state courts and at the Justice Department. “This has never happened in South Carolina before, where a defendant has such infamous celebrity. … This case is in the spotlight, and the feds want to make a statement.”

Since the night Roof walked into the church and later escaped into the night, authorities have labeled the shooting as a hate crime while the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division sent FBI agents to investigate the possible motive. But the indictment Wednesday brings that aspect of the crime that has sparked conversations about racism nationwide into the courtroom for the first time.

Such a deadly bias-motivated attack has become a rarity in modern times. In the five-year span from 2009 to 2013, American law enforcement agencies reported 34 hate-motivated homicides to the FBI. In one of the most recent instances, a white supremacist fatally shot six people and wounded four others at a Sikh temple in Wisconsin.

Roof’s case is almost unheard of in recent times, said Jeannine Bell, a law professor of law at Indiana University at Bloomington and a nationally recognized scholar on hate crimes. Hate-based killings are relatively rare, and the killers have most often taken their lives before they could be arrested or prosecuted, she said.

The two-track prosecution in a state that is one of the few without hate crime legislation of its own on the books makes it even more of an anomaly, she said.

“A situation like this,” she said, “is almost unprecedented.”


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