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Dylann Roof

Source: Police / Dylann Roof, Charleston Shooter

Federal authorities have indicted 21-year-old Dylann Roof, the suspected shooter of nine people at a black Charleston church on dozens of new charges, including hate crimes, firearms violations and obstructing the practice of religion.

Hate crimes cases can be tricky to win, because you have to prove a suspect’s motivations and pre-crime intentions. Cornell Law School professor Jens Ohlin is an expert who has followed this case.

Ohlin says some of the circumstances of Roof’s case could possibly make it easier for prosecutors and more difficult for his defense team.  Although what approach Roof’s defense lawyers might take is unclear, Ohlin said if Roof was to be unapologetic for any of the photos or writings their job may be made even more difficult.

The decision has not been made by the justice department about whether it will seek the death penalty against Roof, nor whether its prosecution will come before a state case that includes murder charges and another potential death penalty prosecution.  During a Wednesday news conference U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch said since South Carolina has no state hate-crimes law, federal charges were needed to address a motive that prosecutors believe was definitely rooted in racial hate.

Lynch also said, for several months prior to the shootings Roof conceived a plan to help him “increase racial tensions throughout the nation and seeking retribution for perceived wrongs he believed African-Americans had committed against white people.”


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