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Dylann Roof Has Been Officially Charged with a Federal Hate Crime, Could Face the Death Penalty

The location of his alleged shooting spree—a church—could land the South Carolina native on death row.
Mug shot via Lexington County Detention Center

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Today, Dylann Roof, the alleged perpetrator of last month's shooting spree at an historic black church in Charleston, South Carolina, is being indicted for 33 federal crimes, the New York Times reports. In addition to a hate crime, the charges include "obstruction of persons in the free exercise of religious beliefs," which could prove to be the legal lynchpin that places the 21-year-old on death row.


South Carolina's lack of hate crime legislation has made Roof's case frustrating for the community that's still recovering from the loss of nine citizens. Charleston's police chief, Greg Mullen, told reporters soon after the racially motivated killing spree, "In this case, there is absolutely no doubt in my mind that it is a hate crime."

Roof already faced nine counts of murder in the state of South Carolina. However, federal investigators told the Times last month that leaving the racial component of such a horrific crime unaddressed was not going to fly. One law enforcement official said Roof's alleged crime "directly fits the hate crime statute," and added, "This is exactly what it was created for."

A formal grand jury indictment in federal court could come as soon as this afternoon, according to the paper. A federal hate crime, however, does not necessarily mean eligibility for the death penalty—thus the importance of the obstruction of religious practice charge.

If the end of the road for Roof really is federal death row, that would put him in league with some of the America's worst criminals, including convicted Boston Bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev.

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