WASHINGTON — A federal grand jury indicted an elderly white supremacist Wednesday on charges that could earn him the death penalty in the fatal shooting of a security guard at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington. Hate crimes charges were added to the case against James von Brunn, who has been in a hospital since the shooting last month.
Officials say the 89-year-old shot and killed museum guard Stephen T. Johns on June 10. Von Brunn was shot in the face by other guards but survived.
A seven-count indictment was handed up Wednesday in U.S. District Court, charging von Brunn with first-degree murder, killing in a federal building – both charges already lodged against him – and a new charge of bias-motivated crime. Four of the charges make him eligible for the death penalty.
The indictment accuses von Brunn of seeking to intimidate Jewish people at the museum.
FBI Assistant Director Joseph Persichini said he believed the indictment will "send a message" to those who would try to turn hatred into violence.
"We knew what Mr. von Brunn had done, and we had to determine why, and I think this indictment shows exactly why, because of hate and prejudice," Persichini said. He said investigators tracked leads all over the country to build a case against von Brunn.
The case has sparked renewed calls for expanded hate crimes legislation.
Authorities say von Brunn walked up to the museum carrying a rifle and shot Johns, who was black, as the guard was opening the door for him.
Von Brunn had a racist, anti-Semitic Web site and wrote a book titled "Kill the Best Gentiles," alleging a Jewish conspiracy "to destroy the white gene pool." He also claimed the Holocaust was a hoax.
A hearing on von Brunn's case is scheduled for Thursday in U.S. District Court. So far he has not been well enough to appear in court and it was unclear whether he would be in the courtroom this week.