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Hillary Clinton supports death penalty for accused Charleston shooter Dylann Roof

Hillary Clinton speaks to New Jersey voters in Newark on June 1. (Melina Mara/The Washington Post)

Hillary Clinton supports the pursuit of the death penalty for the man accused of killing nine parishioners inside a Charleston, S.C., church last year.

Clinton spokesman Brian Fallon said that “she respects the Justice Department decision" to seek the highest punishment for Dylann Roof, who will stand trail for the massacre. The position was first reported by the Huffington Post.

Clinton’s quiet support of the death penalty for Dylann Roof is a sign that the primary isn’t over

Clinton's long-held position of support for the death penalty is one that has put her at odds with many Democrats. But her decision in this case would also likely have been strongly influenced by the desires of the victims' families.

She has been endorsed by the Rev. Anthony Thompson, whose wife, Myra, was killed in the shooting and who was featured in one of her campaign ads. And Clinton has regularly cited the families as a lesson in the power of forgiveness and the need for more civility in public life.

An attorney who represents some of the families of the victims reiterated last week that though they have mixed feelings about the death penalty, they support the Justice Department's decision in this case.

“Regardless of whether or not you’re for the death penalty, the thought process is this: Where else would you have it, if not for here?” said attorney Steve Schmutz, who represents the families of three of the victims.

Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont, Clinton's opponent in the Democratic presidential race, has criticized her support of the death penalty. She has continued to defend its use in extreme cases of mass violence or terrorism, but she has also suggested that she would support it being eliminated by states or the courts.

At a town hall this year, after Clinton was confronted by a man who had spent decades on death row for a crime he didn't commit, Clinton acknowledged the moral complexity of the issue.

"You know, this is such a profoundly difficult question and what I have said and what I continue to believe is that the states have proven themselves incapable of carrying out fair trials that give any defendant all the rights that defendants should have," Clinton said. "I would breathe a sigh of relief if either the Supreme Court or the states themselves began to eliminate the death penalty."