South Carolina church shooter could face federal hate crime charges

Dylann Roof (Reuters/Jason Miczek)
The federal government is considering filing federal hate crime charges against the man suspected of the deadly shooting at a black church in South Carolina. The suspect already faces nine counts of murder and could face the death penalty in state court.

Law enforcement officials said the crimes committed by Dylann Roof, 21, during the shooting at Emanuel AME Church in Charleston on June 17 were “so horrific and racially motivated” that the FBI and the Justice Department were “obligated to address the incident as a hate crime,” according to The New York Times.

READ MORE: Dylann Roof 'manifesto': Massacre suspect explains why he 'chose" Charleston

Dylann Roof has confessed to the shooting at the black church, and has been charged with nine counts of murder and possession of a firearm during the commission of a violent crime. Roof reportedly said that he wanted to start a race war when he shot dead the six women and three men in the church. The bond for the gun charge was set at $1 million, but Roof remains in jail as there is no bond for murder.

In cases involving violations of both state and federal law, the Justice Department usually allows the state to prosecute when a suspect faces a long prison sentence. In this instance, South Carolina doesn’t have a hate crime law, meaning the state could only prosecute Roof for the murders. Federal investigators think that if the trial was to go ahead, the issue of racism as a motivating factor in the crime would go unaddressed.

If Roof were to be charged with a federal hate crime, he could face a penalty of life in prison. Another indication that such a charge will likely be made is that two federal public defenders in South Carolina have been assigned to defend him, according to The Post and Courier.

A racist manifesto posted online could be key to the federal charge. The manifesto has been attributed to Roof because his name was used to register the website where it was posted online.

READ MORE: States, stores pull Confederate flag in wake of Charleston shooting

“I chose Charleston because it is most historic city in my state, and at one time had the highest ratio of blacks to Whites in the country,” the 2,500-word document reads. “We have no skinheads, no real KKK, no one doing anything but talking on the internet. Well someone has to have the bravery to take it to the real world, and I guess that has to be me.”

FBI analysts told the Times there is “a high degree of certainty” that he posted the manifesto online.

US Attorney General Loretta Lynch said she couldn’t discuss specifics of the investigation but said hate crimes were “the original domestic terrorism,” according to the Associated Press. Lynch is the country’s first black woman to head the crime fighting agency.