Federal grand jury indicts Roof on hate crimes; feds exploring death penalty

Dylann Roof appears at a court hearing in Charleston, S.C., on Thursday, July 16, 2015. A judge ruled Thursday that Roof, accused of killing nine people at the Emanuel AME Church in Charleston in June, will stand trial in July 2016.
Dylann Roof appears at a court hearing in Charleston, S.C., on Thursday, July 16, 2015. A judge ruled Thursday that Roof, accused of killing nine people at the Emanuel AME Church in Charleston in June, will stand trial in July 2016. AP

A federal grand jury on Wednesday indicted Dylann Roof for hate crimes in the June killings of nine African-Americans at a Charleston church, according to an indictment just made public.

The 33-count indictment charges Roof, 21, a white man from the Columbia area, with 12 counts of committing a federal hate crime (nine counts of murder and three attempted murders) against blacks, 12 counts of obstructing the exercise of religion and nine counts of the use of a firearm to commit murder.

It says Roof gunned down nine African-Americans with a Glock .45 caliber and had eight magazines loaded with hollow-point bullets.

The indictment cites racist statements and photographs of and by Roof published on an Internet site shortly before the June 17 killings of the African-Americans during a prayer meeting at “Mother” Emanuel AME Church.

“In the months before June 17... Roof decided to attack African-Americans because of their race,” the 15-page indictment says. “He further decided to attack African-American worshipers in an African-American church in order to make his attack more notorious.”

The indictment continues, “He selected Emanuel AME Church because it had a predominately African-American membershipo, and because it was significant to the people of Charleston, of South Carolina, and of the Nation.” It also says Roof’s motive was “to increase racial tensions across the Nation.”

Hate crimes under federal law are crimes committed against someone because of their race, color, religion, religion, ethnicity, nationality, gender, sexual orientation or disability. South Carolina does not have a hate crimes law, but some 45 states do.

Under federal law, prosecutors may seek the death penalty where violent death has resulted The U.S. Justice Department is exploring whether to seek the death penalty against Roof.

A federal judge in Roof’s case had not been publicly determined by mid-afernoon Wednesday. But sources familiar with the case said a likely candidate is Judge Richard Gergel, a Columbia native who holds court in Charleston.

Evidence concerning a racial motive by Roof in the case surfaced shortly after the June 17 killings by gun at Mother Emanuel AME Church. on June 17, a racist manifesto and photos of Roof with a gun and Confederate flags surfaced on the Internet on a website he allegedly created.

In his alleged online manifesto, Roof said he was on his way to Charleston and hoped to ignite a race war.

Roof could also be indicted for a terror-related crime, but the race aspect of Roof’s case made hate crime charges more likely, sources familiar with an ongoing state-federal investigation said.

Under federal law, conviction of hate crimes involving murder can be punishable by life in prison or the death penalty.

Since the June killings – far from triggering a race war that Roof allegedly sought – the shootings have led to the taking down of the Confederate flag at the S.C. State House and new conversations about race in the state and across the nation.

President Obama came to South Carolina to speak at the funeral of Emanuel pastor and state Sen. Clementa Pinckney. The Emanuel church has become a shrine of sorts, visited by hundreds each week, and bedecked with flowers and American flags.

Already, S.C. Solicitor Scarlett Wilson of Charleston County has won indictments for nine counts of murder against Roof.

Wilson has said she is considering a state death penalty charges against Roof but has not made a decision.

But state court documents recently filed in Charleston County in Roof’s case make clear that Wilson is looking at the alleged killer’s motive.

In a July 17 order, issued in response to a Wilson motion, state circuit Judge J.C. Nicholson ruled Roof must produce handwriting samples in accordinance with State Law Enforcement Division procedures and in the presence of an expert in handwriting analysis.

Nicholson’s order said that executed search warrants at Roof’s known residences and vehicle turned up “handwritten notes, lists, etc.” that the State “believes could contain relevant evidence of guilt and motive” in Roof’s case.

“Accordingly, it is important that the State confirm the authorship of the collected hand-written material by expert comparison to known examplars of the defendant’s handwriting,” the motion said.

Under state law, a solicitor like Wilson unilaterally decides whether to bring death penalty charges.

Under the federal system, the Justice Department conducts a review process that can be lengthy.

Although Roof has not yet been indicted on federal charges, Assistant U.S. Public Defenders Ann Walsh of Charleston and Bill F. Nettles IV of Florence have been assigned to represent Roof in case of any federal prosecution.

The federal indictment issued Wednesday names each of the victims: Pinckney, Cynthia Hurd, Susie Jackson, 87; the Rev. Sharonda Coleman-Singleton, Ethel Lee Lance, 70; the Rev. DePayne Middleton-Doctor, Tywanza Sanders, the Rev. Daniel Simmons Sr., 74; and Myra Thompson.

It also names two of the people who survived what has been called a massacre, and a surviving minor who is identified only by the initials K.M. The named survivors are Felicia Sanders and Polly Shepard.

Assistant U. S. Attorneys Nathan Williams of Charleston and Julius Richardson of Columbia are expected to prosecute Roof.

In his 2,000-plus word manifesto, Roof wrote, “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. 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."

Roof also told how he believed African-Americans are inferior to whites, how they were happy when they lived under slavery and how whites need to take the country back. Blacks are "the biggest problem of America," he writes.

Roof also targets Jews and Hispanics, writing of Hispanics that even though many are white, "They are still our enemies." Of Jews, Roof writes they are responsible for "agitation of the black race."

As for patriotism, Roof writes, "I hate the sight of the American flag."