Dylann Roof — the man accused of killing nine black parishioners at a church in Charleston, South Carolina last June — is facing the death penalty from federal prosecutors.
On the decision, Attorney General Loretta Lynch said, “The nature of the alleged crime and the resulting harm compelled this decision.”
Roof, 22, is accused of opening fire during a Bible study session at the church, and he now faces 33 federal charges. Accusations of hate crimes, firearm offenses, and obstructions of religion are included in the charges.
Roof has also been accused of holding white supremacist views. While 83% of Americans identify themselves as Christian, including people of all races and ethnicity — the church shooting was a blatantly racist targeted killing.
The trial is only coming to a head now because U.S. prosecutors had to decide whether or not to seek the death penalty, delaying the trial.
Roof faces nine counts of murder in state court. And, although federal prosecutors seem dedicated to seeking the death penalty, federal executions are very rare.
Roof’s attorneys in federal court have said that their client would be willing to plead guilty if the death penalty were not an option. Otherwise, his lawyers declined to comment on the case.
Only one other person was charged in connection with the case. Joey Meek, one of Roof’s friends, pleaded guilty to lying to federal authorities and has already agreed to help the prosecution against Roof.
Malcolm Graham, the brother of one of the shooting victims, Cynthia Hurd, said that before announcing the decision to seek the death penalty, they talked to family members of victims.
“What he did that night was kill innocent individuals at a Bible study,” Graham said. “Not only was it an attack on those who were there, it was an attack on a race of people.”