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Justice Department To Seek Death Penalty For S.C. Church Shooting Suspect

Pallbearers release doves over the coffin of Ethel Lance, one of the nine people killed in the shooting at Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, S.C., during her funeral on June 25, 2015.
Pallbearers release doves over the coffin of Ethel Lance, one of the nine people killed in the shooting at Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, S.C., during her funeral on June 25, 2015.

The Justice Department says it will seek the death penalty against Dylann Roof, accused of fatally shooting nine people at a historically black church in Charleston, S.C., in June 2015.

"The nature of the alleged crime and the resulting harm compelled this decision," Attorney General Loretta Lynch said in a statement.

The federal hate-crime charges against Roof "center on both the victims' race and their identity as churchgoers who were attempting to follow their religious beliefs when Roof attacked," as The Two-Way reported last summer. At the time, Lynch called hate crimes "the original domestic terrorism." Roof also faces federal weapons charges.

"The Justice Department says he selected the [Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church] and his victims to win notoriety and to try to ignite a race war," NPR's Carrie Johnson reports. "Roof has pleaded not guilty to the federal charges."

Roof's lawyer David Bruck declined to comment on Tuesday's decision in an email to Carrie.

There is a separate case against Roof filed by authorities in South Carolina. Prosecutors in that case are also seeking the death penalty, as we reported in September.

Survivors of the attack and family members of the deceased victims "had differing views on whether Roof should face execution," the Charleston Post and Courier says. An attorney for family members of three of the victims told the paper on Tuesday:

"The families will support this decision. Really, I think the families have mixed emotions about the death penalty. But if it's ever going to be given, this case certainly calls for it."

Roof is scheduled to be tried in January in the state case. It's unclear at this point when the federal trial will take place.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Corrected: May 24, 2016 at 12:00 AM EDT
A previous photo caption gave the wrong date for Ethel Lance's funeral. It was June 25, 2015, not Jan. 25, 2015.
Dana Farrington is a digital editor coordinating online coverage on the Washington Desk — from daily stories to visual feature projects to the weekly newsletter. She has been with the NPR Politics team since President Trump's inauguration. Before that, she was among NPR's first engagement editors, managing the homepage for NPR.org and the main social accounts. Dana has also worked as a weekend web producer and editor, and has written on a wide range of topics for NPR, including tech and women's health.