Kansas City shootings: Could victims' religion affect hate crime charges?

Hear suspect's anti-Semitic rants

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    Hear suspect's anti-Semitic rants

Hear suspect's anti-Semitic rants 01:29

Story highlights

  • Authorities say it was a hate crime when a gunman shot at Jewish centers
  • The three victims of the shooting were Christian
  • The shooting still qualifies as a hate crime, a CNN legal analyst says

Investigators say it was a hate crime when a gunman opened fire at two Kansas City-area Jewish centers. But the three people he killed were Christian.

That shouldn't affect whether authorities file hate crime charges against him, legal experts say.

That's because federal hate crime statutes criminalize offenses involving "actual or perceived" race, color, religion, national origin, gender, sexual orientation, gender identity or disability of any person.

"To qualify as a hate crime, all that matters is that the crime was motivated, in whole or in part, by the offender's bias," CNN Legal Analyst Sunny Hostin said.

"The fact that both shootings occurred at places identifiable as Jewish, combined with his white supremacist past, plus any comments he made ... and other evidence would be more than enough to qualify this as a hate crime," she said.

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Officials: Shooting was a hate crime

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Kansas suspect: 'I hate all Jews'

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Accused Kansas shooter has racist past

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The suspect, Frazier Glenn Cross, 73, faces charges of first-degree murder. Organizations that track hate groups describe Cross, who is also known as Frazier Glenn Miller, as a long-time white supremacist.

At a news conference on Monday, Overland Park Police Chief John Douglass said that investigators had "unquestionably determined...that this was a hate crime."

And Barry Grissom, U.S. attorney for the District of Kansas, said federal prosecutors would be filing hate crime charges against him.

"We are in a very good place from an evidence standpoint of moving forward with this case," Grissom told reporters, "and it will be presented to the grand jury in the not too distant future."

Richard Cohen, president of the Southern Poverty Law Center, said there's no doubt that the suspect's anti-Semitism fueled the shooting.

"Miller, of course, targeted them because he perceived them to be Jewish. That seems pretty obvious from the site of the shootings," he told CNN's Wolf Blitzer.

Another indication of his mindset, Cohen said, were the words he shouted from the back of the patrol car after his arrest: "Heil Hitler."

If Cross is convicted of a federal hate crime, he could face life in prison.

What the killings say about U.S. hate groups