WASHINGTON (AA) – The Justice Department will seek capital punishment for a white man charged with slaying nine black parishioners at a South Carolina church, according to America’s top lawyer.
“Following the department’s rigorous review process to thoroughly consider all relevant factual and legal issues, I have determined that the Justice Department will seek the death penalty” in the case against Dylan Roof, Attorney General Loretta Lynch said in statement Tuesday.
Lynch cited the nature and resulting harm of the crime as factors in her decision.
The brutal June 17 shootings at Charleston’s predominantly black Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church contributed to growing concern about racial tensions in the U.S.
The 22 year-old is facing a total of 33 charges, including murder, federal hate crimes charges, obstruction of religion and firearms offenses.
Among the nine people who were killed in the shooting was pastor Clementa Pickney, who was also a state senator.
Photos of the white male posing alongside the Confederate flag and desecrating the U.S. flag have contributed to ongoing debate about the presence of Confederate symbols at public institutions, and led to the battle flag’s removal from the South Carolina statehouse.
Authorities have accused Roof of holding white supremacist views and seeking to foment wider racial violence by carrying out the grisly murders.
Roof is also facing the death penalty in a separate state case against him. His state trial is slated to begin next year and state prosecutors have voiced a desire to see their case precede the federal trial.