Federal prosecutors enter accused SC church killer Roof case

Dylann Storm Roof
Dylann Storm Roof File Art

Without public announcement, federal prosecutors and a federal judge have quietly entered the Charleston church racial massacre case.

According to an order on the federal judiciary Internet site, Magistrate Judge Bristow Marchant of Charleston appointed William Nettles IV of Florence and Ann Walsh of Charleston to represent accused mass killer Dylann Storm Roof. Nettles and Walsh work for the federal public defenders office.

“The court is advised that (Roof) is under investigation by federal authorities and is entitled to the appointment of counsel,” Marchant wrote in a Monday order.

Federal prosecutors in the case are Nathan Williams of Charleston and Julius “Jay” Richardson of Columbia.

State authorities last week charged Roof with murder in the June 17 shooting deaths of nine African-Americans at Emanuel AME Church.

However, no final decision has been made as to whether Roof ultimately will be tried by a state authorities or federal authorities. The State Law Enforcement Division and FBI are investigating the case.

Either way, prosecutors likely will seek the death penalty, sources familiar with the S.C. criminal justice system said.

Ninth Circuit Solicitor Scarlett Wilson is prosecuting that case, and Circuit Public Defender Ashley Pennington and Columbia attorney Boyd Young will defend Roof in state court.

Last week, Justice Department officials announced they were investigating the case as a hate crime. It is not clear what specific law federal prosecutors would press a death penalty case against Roof, but prosecutors likely could seek the death penalty if they charged Roof with civil rights violations where multiple people died as a result of using a deadly weapon.

The deaths of State Sen. Clementa Pinckney, D-Jasper, and eight others sparked widespread outrage and have led to calls to take down the Confederate flag on the State House grounds. The accused killer Roof is an apparent white supremacist who draped himself in trappings of symbols revered by white extremists, including the Confederate flag.