Federal indictment of Dylann Roof lacks key element, judge rules

Dylann Roof. File/provided

A federal judge ruled Thursday that the government’s indictment of Dylann Roof did not thoroughly explain a key element of the shooting suspect’s alleged crimes.

U.S. District Judge Richard Gergel ordered prosecutors to file a “bill of particulars,” a detailed explanation of 12 of the 33 charges against Roof in the June 2015 attack that killed nine black worshippers at Emanuel AME Church.

His order came in response to a request by Roof’s lawyers and despite opposition from the government, which voiced concern that it would reveal too much information and give the defense an advantage at Roof’s death penalty trial.

Roof, 22, of Eastover, was indicted on hate crimes, religious freedom violations and use of a firearm in a violent crime.

The dispute centered on the religious rights charges that make Roof eligible for execution. His defense attorneys said the indictment didn’t explain how the crimes were carried through the use of “interstate commerce,” a necessary component allowing the federal authorities to prosecute Roof. The indictment simply stated that Roof’s actions “were in and affected intestate commerce.”

Such commerce can include acts like using a cellphone and transporting items across state lines. The indictment mentioned Roof’s use of an internet manifesto to spread his beliefs of white supremacy and his purchase of a gun and ammunition in Columbia.

In fighting the defense request, prosecutors said those mentions provided enough information about the crimes’ connection to interstate commerce.

Gergel disagreed. He called the commerce connection an “essential element of the offense” and said the indictment “provides no explanation” for that key component, according to the ruling.

The judge said Roof’s attorneys must have that information “to prepare a defense.”

Roof’s defense team also has asked the judge to dismiss those counts of the indictment because the commerce connection doesn’t exist, though Gergel has not ruled on that issue.

Reach Andrew Knapp at 843-937-5414 or twitter.com/offlede.