Hate crime charge: Dylann Roof Hate Crime Charge

Published: July 23, 2015

Hate crime charge: Dylann Roof Hate Crime Charge, The 21-year-old man suspected of killing nine black churchgoers in Charleston, South Carolina, has been indicted on dozens of federal charges, US attorney general Loretta Lynch announced on Wednesday.

Lynch said a federal grand jury indicted Roof on 33 hate crime charges, including murder and attempted murder, stemming from what she described as a months-long plot to kill African Americans at worship in a black church. Roof could face the death penalty as a result of the charges, though Lynch said prosecutors have not decided whether to seek the punishment.

“Racially motivated violence such as this is the original domestic terrorism,” said Lynch, while praising the families of the Emanuel AME shooting victims as pillars of “true grace”.

“On that summer evening, [Roof] found his target: African Americans engaged in worship,” said Lynch. “Met with welcome by the ministers of the church and its parishioners, he joined them in their Bible study group. The parishioners had Bibles. Dylann Roof has his gun, eight magazines loaded with hollow-point bullets. While the parishioners were engaged in Bible study, Dylann Roof drew his pistol and opened fire.”

The grand jury indicted Roof under two separate federal hate crimes statutes, Lynch said, specifically citing the 2009 Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Jr Hate Crimes Prevention Act.

The charges are in addition to murder and weapons charges he already faces at the county level. Both the federal and state charges can include the death penalty, though no decision has yet been made on whether to seek Roof’s execution.

Roof is accused of entering the Emanuel AME church in Charleston on 17 June and sitting through an hour of Bible study before fatally shooting nine people and fleeing. He was captured 240 miles away in Shelby, North Carolina.

In addition to evidence gathered at the scene and photos in which he appears waving a Confederate flag, authorities also suspect Roof is the author of a widely cited racist screed, published on a website called the Last Rhodesian, a reference to the now-defunct African nation whose leader was openly racist.

The federal charges come as Roof faces nine counts of murder, three counts of attempted murder and a weapons charge in Charleston County, counts on which South Carolina prosecutors could choose to seek the death penalty.

Roof cannot be charged with hate crimes in state court, however – South Carolina is among just five states, including the southern states of Georgia and Arkansas, that have no hate crimes laws.

A hate crime is not a distinct federal offense, but rather an existing criminal offense that is motivated by bias, such as alleged racial bias in Roof’s case. The FBI often helps local jurisdictions investigate these acts, such as arson or murder. That evidence may be used to bring civil rights charges against a defendant, under the US Justice Department’s purview. The FBI looks at hate crime prosecutions as a “backstop” to prosecutions by local law enforcement. In 2012, the FBI helped investigate more than 200 hate crimes, the agency said on its website.

Nationally, almost 6,000 hate crimes were reported to local law enforcement agencies in 2013, according to the FBI. That is the most recent year for which data is available. However, it’s unclear how reliable this data is.

Studies by the Department of Justice have found as many as 250,000 Americans aged 12 and older could be victims of hate crimes each year, two-thirds of which go unreported.

Federal prosecutors believe that hate crimes are underreported, and recent research suggests that as many as two-thirds of hate crimes are not correctly counted as such by local jurisdictions.

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