South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley called the shooting spree inside a Charleston church a hate crime and said Friday that the accused gunman should face the death penalty.
“This is an absolute hate crime, ” Haley, a Republican, said in an interview Friday with the “Today” show. “And when I’ve been talking with investigators as we’ve been going through the interviews, they said they looked pure evil in the eye yesterday. Without question this is hate.”
Haley spoke a day after authorities named Dylan Roof as their suspect and arrested him for the horrific killings inside the historic Emanuel AME Church.
Police said Roof was in the church for an hour before killing nine people, including a pastor and state senator, a library manager and an 87-year-old grandmother. Law enforcement officials said he fired the fatal shots at close range, rather than randomly spraying gunfire across a room, and also said he stopped to reload several times.
Roof was captured in Shelby, N.C., on Thursday morning, about 14 hours after the killings, following a tip from a florist who saw him while she was driving to work. He waived extradition and was flown back to South Carolina on Thursday night. Roof is expected to face a bond hearing on Friday.
“We absolutely will want him to have the death penalty,” Haley said Friday morning. “This is the worst hate that I’ve seen and that the country has seen in a long time.”
South Carolina has the death penalty and carries out executions by lethal injection, though the state has not put an inmate to death since 2011. State law says that prosecutors can seek the death penalty if there are certain “aggravating circumstances” in the case.
One of these aggravating circumstances is when the person in question is charged with murdering two or more people during a single act. Other aggravating circumstances include killing a law enforcement officer, killing a child age 11 or younger or killing a person while carrying out another crime like a robbery.
In South Carolina, if prosecutors seek the death penalty and show that aggravating circumstances were involved, the person on trial can be sentenced to death or life in prison without parole.
The office of Scarlett A. Wilson, the prosecutor for Charleston County, did not respond to a request for comment about this case on Thursday.
Meanwhile, the Justice Department has also said it is also investigating the shooting as a possible hate crime, though it is too soon to know if a federal case will follow.