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National

Accused Charleston, S.C., Shooter To Face Federal Hate Crime Charges

MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:

The man accused of killing nine people at the Emmanuel AME Church in Charleston, S.C., now faces federal hate crime charges that could lead to the death penalty. Attorney General Loretta Lynch today announced that a federal grand jury had returned a 33-count indictment against the accused shooter, Dylann Roof.

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LORETTA LYNCH: The parishioners had Bibles. Dylann Roof had his .45 caliber Glock pistol and eight magazines loaded with hollow-point bullets.

BLOCK: NPR justice correspondent Carrie Johnson is with us to talk about this federal case. And Carrie, what more did the attorney general have to say about the charges brought today?

CARRIE JOHNSON, BYLINE: The Justice Department portrays Dylann Roof as fueled by racial hatred for several months before those alleged crimes last June, and they say the motive was fanning racial flames, exacting revenge on behalf of white people and targeting a church to make Dylann Roof's attack allegedly even more notorious, Melissa - not just any church, one that carries deep historical significance for the black community in Charleston and beyond.

BLOCK: That the state of South Carolina has already charged Dylann Roof with murder and weapons charges. Those charges also could bring the death penalty. So why is the federal government weighing in here?

JOHNSON: Put simply, South Carolina does not have a hate crime statute on the books, and this crime was simply too important for the feds to drop in terms of a racial motivation perspective, especially given that manifesto the FBI has tied to Dylann Roof, the one that's filled with slurs and photos that decry integration and argue white people are superior. There are nine federal hate crime charges in this indictment for acts that resulted in death of those worshipers under the Matthew, Shepard and James Byrd law that was enacted in 2009 at the start of the Obama administration, three more charges of attempted murder and another set of charges, Melissa, tied to interfering with the victims' free exercise of religion. Those are the charges that could carry the federal death penalty if a jury ultimately convicts and the DOJ decides to go in that direction.

BLOCK: Now, Loretta Lynch was asked why there were no domestic terrorism charges against Dylann Roof included in the indictment. What did she say about that?

JOHNSON: Yeah. This is a little bit controversial because many people out there had wanted to see some kind of terrorist element in this case. Loretta Lynch says there's no specific charge in federal law labeled domestic terrorism, no statute. The Justice Department, though, could've cited terrorism as an aggravating factor to the crimes. It didn't. Lynch says that hate crimes represent the original domestic terrorism, though, and that, in no way, minimizes the seriousness of these offenses today.

BLOCK: And what happens now?

JOHNSON: No decision has been made yet on whether to seek the federal death penalty. The AG says they're going to consult with victims families and also consult with state partners about who should go first in terms of prosecuting Dylann Roof.

BLOCK: OK, Carrie. Thanks so much.

JOHNSON: You're welcome.

BLOCK: That's NPR justice correspondent Carrie Johnson. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.