The Department of Justice announced a long-awaited decision Tuesday that it will seek the death penalty in the federal murder case against Dylann Roof, the man accused of gunning down nine people inside a historically black South Carolina church last summer.
"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. The nature of the alleged crime and the resulting harm compelled this decision," Attorney General Loretta Lynch said in a statement.
On the evening of June 17, Roof allegedly attended a Bible study at the Emanuel AME church and sat with the group for an hour before opening fire, killing three men and six women.
According to a witness who survived the attack, Roof told the African-American churchgoers, "You rape our women, and you're taking over our country, and you have to go."
In its filing, the DOJ lists Roof's racial motivation in the killings as a factor in deciding to pursue the death penalty.
Roof is already charged in South Carolina state court with capital murder and was scheduled to go to trial later this year, where he could face the death penalty for those charges. However, now that the DOJ is also bringing a death penalty case against Roof, it is unclear which trial will take place first.
Roof is represented by David Bruck, one the country's most notable and sought after trial lawyers for defendants facing the death penalty. He most recently represented Boston Marathon bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev in his federal death penalty trial last year. Bruck has previously said that his client would consider a plea deal if the death penalty was taken off the table.
After the announcement, a Charleston based attorney representing the victims' families, Steve Schmutz, told the Post-Courier that despite "mixed feelings" about the death penalty the families would support the DOJ's decision.
Roof's attorneys told BuzzFeed News they have no comment on the decision.
Michael Hayes is a senior reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in New York.
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