WASHINGTON — The man accused of gunning down nine people inside a historic African-American church in Charleston, South Carolina, last month has been indicted on federal hate crime charges, Attorney General Loretta Lynch announced Wednesday.
Some of these charges carry the death penalty, though Lynch said no decision has been made yet on whether the federal government would seek that sentence.
Dylann Roof was indicted by a federal grand jury in South Carolina and charged with killing and attempting to kill African-American parishioners “because of their race and in order to interfere with their exercise of their religion,” Lynch said during a news conference in Washington.
The 33-count indictment alleges that Roof decided months before the shooting to attack and kill black people, picking the “Mother Emanuel” church in Charleston because of its larger renown and significance. In addition to killing people due to their race, the indictment also states that he attacked people who were exercising their religious beliefs.
“Met with welcome by the ministers of the church and its parishioners, he joined them in their Bible study group,” Lynch said. “The parishioners had Bibles. Dylann Roof had his .45-caliber Glock pistol and eight magazines loaded with hollow point bullets.”
Roof, 21, had already been charged with nine counts of murder and three counts of attempted murder for the shooting spree. Lynch did not say how the federal charges would affect the state’s prosecution, describing them as “parallel” processes that would make their way through the courts. The office of the prosecutor for Charleston County did not respond to requests for comment Wednesday.
The indictment notes that three of the victims of the shooting were between the ages of 70 and 87 years old. According to the federal death penalty statute, one of the aggravating factors that can warrant a death sentence is if the victims are “particularly vulnerable due to old age.”
Lynch said that before the federal government determines whether to seek the death penalty, the families of the church victims would be consulted. Ultimately, Lynch will make the final decision.
Roof has appeared in court twice since he was arrested the morning after the shooting. During his first appearance, Roof remained impassive on a video feed while relatives of the victims offered him forgiveness and said they were praying for his soul.
Last week, a judge scheduled his trial for July 11, 2016, a little more than a year after the church massacre.
Washington Post staff writers Sari Horwitz and Ellen Nakashima contributed to this report.