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Dylann Roof Will Face the Death Penalty When He Goes on Trial

"This was the ultimate crime," the South Carolina prosecutor pursuing the case against Roof remarked, "and justice from our state calls for the ultimate punishment."
September 3, 2015, 9:05pm
Photo via EPA/Lexington Police Department

The South Carolina solicitor tasked with prosecuting Dylann Storm Roof, the 21-year-old charged with the murder of nine people at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston in June, filed a court document on Thursday indicating that she intends to push for the death penalty.

"Dylann Storm Roof by his act of murder knowingly created a great risk of death to more than one person in a public place," Scarlett Wilson, solicitor for the Ninth Judicial Circuit, wrote in the document filed on Thursday.

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"We all agree that forgiveness can be an important part of the healing process," Wilson said at a press conference on Thursday, "but forgiveness does not mean forgoing consequences, even severe consequences."

Roof joined parishioners and pastors who had gathered for a Bible study at the historically black church in downtown Charleston on June 17 and sat with them for an hour before opening fire. He was indicted by a grand jury the following month on nine counts of murder, three counts of attempted murder, and a firearms charge.

The killer — who was reportedly motivated by white supremacist ideologies, telling friends that he wanted to start a "race war" — faces additional federal hate-crime charges, which also bring the possibility of a death sentence.

Related: Charleston Shooter Dylann Roof Indicted on Federal Hate Crime Charges

Days after the shooting, a website surfaced containing photos of Roof posing with the Confederate flag and showing off a .45 caliber handgun — the same weapon used in the church shooting. The website, which is now offline, also contained a virulently racist manifesto, reportedly written by Roof.

The mass murder sparked a national conversation about racism and, after the photos of Roof circulated, led to a vote by South Carolina's legislature to bring down the Confederate flag from a memorial on the state capitol grounds.

Roof has not yet entered a plea in the state's murder case. Roof initially intended to plead guilty at his arraignment on federal hate crime and firearm charges, according to his attorney, but decided to wait until US prosecutors announced whether they planned to pursue the death penalty.

Wilson said that survivors of the June massacre and the victims' families varied in their vision of what "justice looks like," noting that some were entirely against the death penalty, some regarded it as "too easy," and others believed it was an entirely appropriate punishment. Nevertheless, Wilson said that all have "respected" her resolve to pursue the death penalty.

"This was the ultimate crime," she remarked, "and justice from our state calls for the ultimate punishment."

Reuters contributed to this report.