The man accused of slaying nine black church members in Charleston last month has been indicted on dozens of federal charges, including 12 hate crime counts.
Documents released Wednesday show a federal grand jury indicted 21-year-old Dylann Roof on the charges. The indictments include a dozen allegations of obstructing someone’s religious practice, a charge that can potentially carry the death penalty in the federal system.
Federal charges have been expected since Roof was arrested following the June 17 shootings at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in downtown Charleston. Roof, who is white, appeared in photos waving Confederate flags and burning or desecrating U.S. flags, and purportedly wrote of fomenting racial violence.
Prosecutors haven’t said if they’ll seek the death penalty against Roof on state charges including nine counts of murder.
Federal officials have previously said that the shootings generally meet the legal requirements for a hate crime and that federal charges were likely. Roof, who is white, appeared in photos waving Confederate flags, and survivors told police that he hurled racial insults during the attack.
Roof already faces state charges including nine counts of murder. State prosecutors have not said whether they’ll seek the death penalty.
Hate crime cases are often challenging for the government because it must prove that a defendant was primarily motivated by a victim’s race or religion as opposed to other factors frequently invoked by defense attorneys, such as drug addiction or mental illness.
Last year, a federal appeals court in Ohio overturned hate-crime convictions against Amish men and women accused in beard- and hair-cutting attacks against fellow Amish who were thought to have defied the community leader. The court held that the jury had received incorrect instructions about how to weigh the role of religion in the attacks and that prosecutors should have had to prove that the assaults wouldn’t have happened but for religious motives.