- The Washington Times - Thursday, September 3, 2015

A South Carolina prosecutor will seek the death penalty for the white man accused of shooting and killing nine black churchgoers in a Charleston church in June.

“This was the ultimate crime and justice from our state calls for the ultimate punishment,” said 9th Circuit Solicitor Scarlett Wilson, announcing her decision Thursday afternoon.

Dylann Roof, 21, faces both state and federal criminal charges in connection with the June 17 mass shooting inside the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church.

Ms. Wilson said she made the decision to pursue the death penalty in the state’s case after consulting with survivors and relatives of those killed, some of whom expressed reservations or opposition to capital punishment.

“Many have expressed the need or the hope to find forgiveness in order to heal and to move forward in their lives,” said Ms. Wilson, reading a prepared statement.

But she said that family members understood her reasoning for pushing ahead with the death penalty anyhow, noting that they “have shown great respect, even deference in my decision.”

Ms. Wilson took no questions afterward.

Federal prosecutors say Mr. Roof targeted his victims, who were gunned down during a Bible study, as a form of retribution against blacks, whom he blamed for wrongs committed against whites in society.

In addition to the state murder charges, Mr. Roof also faces federal hate crimes and firearms charges. South Carolina does not have a hate crimes statute.

Federal prosecutors have not announced whether they plan to pursue the death penalty in their case.

Some relatives of shooting victims notably spoke out at Mr. Roof’s initial court appearance, saying during the hearing that they had forgiven him for his actions.

Opposition by some relatives to use of capital punishment came down to religious convictions, according to an attorney representing several survivors and victims’ relatives.

“The families’ position is consistent with the way they lead their life and the same life experiences that had them there at the Bible study,” attorney Andy Savage told the The Post and Courier. “Religion guides their life, so it’s not surprising that they’re not death penalty advocates. … But it’s not their decision to make.”

During her announcement of the federal charges in July, U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch said Mr. Roof sought to target black churchgoers as a means of “increasing racial tensions throughout the nation.” Ms. Lynch said Mr. Roof had purposely sought out victims inside a church “to ensure the greatest notoriety and attention to his actions.”

The decision by the local prosecutor to pursue the death penalty will likely lengthen the trial process.

During a court hearing on the federal charges in July, Mr. Roof’s attorney acknowledged that his client had expressed interest in pleading guilty to the 33 federal charges but that he would not advise him to do so until prosecutors said whether they would seek the death penalty.

Since 2010, South Carolina has handed down three death penalty sentences, including one last year, according to data from the Death Penalty Information Center.

The state has put 43 people to death since 1976 — the year the Supreme Court reaffirmed the legality of the death penalty after having placed an effective moratorium on capital punishment in 1972. But in the past five years, only one person has been put to death in the state.

“While none of us have the heart for vengeance, we all have the resolve to seek and to find justice in this case,” Ms. Wilson said.

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