The Justice Department announced Tuesday that it will seek the death penalty for Dylann Roof, who is accused of fatally shooting nine people in Charleston, South Carolina, last summer. The state of South Carolina is also seeking the death penalty in its case against the 22-year-old, so he faces two execution trials. Now that the drugs used for lethal injections are no longer available in the pharmaceutical market, the state and Justice Department will have to decide how Roof's death penalties will be carried out if he's convicted.
Because Roof's alleged crime was racially motivated, he was charged with federal hate crimes as well as murder. Prosecutors cited aggravating factors including that he "expressed hatred and contempt towards African-Americans, as well as other groups, and his animosity towards African-Americans played a role in the murders charged in the indictment" and the fact that he didn't show remorse as reasons the death penalty would be sought. "The nature of the alleged crime and the resulting harm compelled this decision," said Attorney General Loretta Lynch in a statement about the death penalty.
Roof's defense attorney said last year that the accused murderer would plead guilty to the federal charges in order to get life in prison, but temporarily entered a "not guilty" plea for Roof until the decision regarding the death penalty was made. The attorney has not commented on Tuesday's announcement, so it's unclear whether or not Roof will change his plea.
The death penalty for federal crimes is rare, and only three people have been executed since it was revived in 1988. All three were killed by lethal injection, which is much more difficult to carry out now that Pfizer blocked its drugs from being used in executions, making the products no longer available through the pharmaceutical industry. States that carry out the death penalty had already begun looking for alternatives, including using only one drug for executions and utilizing alternative drugs, and the federal government will also have to find a way to circumvent this obstacle.
Nebraska was the last state using the electric chair, but the state Supreme Court ruled that it constituted cruel and unusual punishment in 2008. Because the electric chair has been deemed more inhumane, the government is more likely to find a way to continue executing with lethal injection.
However, this won't be a problem if Roof isn't convicted or enters a plea deal. His state case is set to go to trial in January, and the federal case hasn't been scheduled yet.