Jacqueline London: We’ve just learned the man accused in the deadly massacre at a South Carolina church is on a plane being returned to South Carolina. In a late afternoon court appearance in Shelby, North Carolina, 21-year-old Dylann Roof refused a court-appointed lawyer. That’s when he was arrested this morning.
Police say Roof attended a bible study at the church for about an hour before he shot and killed nine people. And the massacre is being investigated by the Justice Department as a hate crime.
Keith Jones: But what makes that any different than a normal murder investigation? For the answer, we bring in NBC10 legal analyst Enrique Latoison. Thank you for joining us Enrique. First and foremost, from a legal standpoint, it helps to first understand what a hate crime is.
Enrique Latoison: Well, when you have a hate crime, it’s when someone’s civil rights are violated but those rights are violated because of one’s race, color, national origin, religion. When those rights are violated, because of that reason, that is what you call a hate crime.
Now South Carolina is one of the few states that actually does not even have a hate crime statute. However, underneath the federal level, there are hate crime statutes in the federal level that could be applied in this case.
Jacqueline London: I know in this particular case, witnesses say he walked in and said, “I am here to shoot black people.” So you wouldn’t think of this particular case there would be a question about whether this would be a hate crime? I know it’s not always that apparent though. How does one prove and then prosecute a hate crime case?
Enrique Latoison: Well, just because you have someone that might be different from the person they’re committing the crime against would not automatically make it a hate crime. What you do is you look into the background. You would see the things that the suspect said or have written down or things they might have said on social media. You would also see whether – what did the person do when actually committing the crime? What things did they say? What references did they make? If they did that, then you can tie the two together and say that the crime was committed because of this person’s color, religion or national origin.
Keith Jones: Let’s jump ahead now and talk about punishment. This 21-year-old allegedly killed nine people. Should we expect this to be a death penalty case?
Enrique Latoison: Well, there are plenty of aggravating circumstances. Nine people being killed, where it took place, the fact that the alleged suspect sat in the church for an hour before committing the crime. These things are aggravated circumstances. Also in the federal level, you have a couple of statutes on the federal level, title 18 section 241 and title 18 section 247 which deal with hate crimes and things that are violating people’s religion and what occurs when someone dies because of that violation.
Even in the federal level, a person could be sentenced to death. I would think in this particular case, with the egregious circumstances, I think they were looking very closely into making this a death penalty case.
Jacqueline London: And we know this took place at the largest church in Charleston and historic church that has overcome obstacle after obstacle. Likely another obstacle that they would overcome. NBC10 legal expert, Enrique Latoison, thank you for your insight.
Enrique Latoison: Thank you.