Death penalty sought for alleged race-hate mass murderer
Federal prosecutors will seek the death penalty for a white man accused of killing nine black parishioners in a racially motivated attack at a church in Charleston, South Carolina last June, the US Justice Department has said.
Dylann Roof (22) is accused of opening fire on June 17 last year during Bible study at Charleston's historic Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in a massacre that shook the country and intensified the debate over race relations.
He faces 33 federal charges, including hate crimes, obstruction of religion and firearms offences.
In a court filing, federal prosecutors cited a number of factors for seeking the death penalty, saying Roof singled out victims who were black and elderly and showed no remorse. They also cited "substantial planning and premeditation".
A friend of Roof, Joseph Meek (21), pleaded guilty last month to concealing his knowledge of Roof's intention to carry out the attack.
He said Roof planned the shooting for six months and wanted to start a race war.
Roof's lawyers have said that he would agree to plead guilty, rather than face trial, if prosecutors ruled out capital punishment.
Roof also faces the death penalty if he is convicted on separate state murder charges in a trial that is set to begin in January.
The state prosecutor trying the case said last September that some of the victims' families were opposed to a death sentence due to their religious beliefs, while others felt that it was appropriate.
Steve Schmutz, an attorney representing families of three victims, said his clients "support whatever decision the US government is making in this case, and I'm sure they support this decision."
Some relatives of the slain worshippers tearfully offered words of forgiveness during Roof's initial court appearance.
Roof is due back in federal court in Charleston on June 8, when prosecutors are expected to discuss a trial date.