Synagogue Shooter Is Given Death Sentence

Robert Bowers killed 11 people in Pittsburgh in 2018, the nation's deadliest antisemitic attack
By Newser Editors and Wire Services
Posted Jul 13, 2023 10:18 AM CDT
Updated Aug 2, 2023 11:31 AM CDT
Synagogue Shooter Eligible for Death Penalty
Defendant Robert Bowers takes notes during a sentencing hearing that will determine if he gets a life sentence or the death penalty, in Pittsburgh federal court on Monday, July 31, 2023.   (Dave Klug via AP)
UPDATE Aug 2, 2023 11:31 AM CDT

The gunman who stormed a synagogue in the heart of Pittsburgh's Jewish community and killed 11 worshippers will be sentenced to death for perpetrating the deadliest antisemitic attack in US history. The same federal jury that convicted 50-year-old truck driver Robert Bowers on 63 criminal counts recommended Wednesday that he be put to death for an attack whose impacts continue to reverberate nearly five years later, the AP reports. A judge will formally impose the sentence later. The verdict came after a lengthy trial in which jurors heard in chilling detail how Bowers reloaded at least twice, stepped over the bloodied bodies of his victims to look for more people to shoot, and surrendered only when he ran out of ammunition.

Jul 13, 2023 10:18 AM CDT

The gunman who killed 11 people at a Pittsburgh synagogue in 2018 is eligible for the death penalty, a federal jury announced Thursday, setting the stage for further evidence and testimony on whether he should be sentenced to death or life in prison. The government is seeking capital punishment for Robert Bowers, who raged against Jewish people online before storming the Tree of Life synagogue with an AR-15 rifle and other weapons in the nation's deadliest antisemitic attack. The jury agreed with prosecutors that Bowers—who spent six months planning the attack and has since expressed regret that he didn't kill more people—had formed the requisite legal intent to kill, per the AP.

Bowers' lawyers argued that his ability to form intent was impaired by mental illness and a delusional belief that he could stop a genocide of white people by killing Jews. The jurors found, among other things, that Bowers intended to kill, that substantial planning went into the attack, and that he targeted vulnerable and elderly victims. He showed little emotion as the verdict was read. Testimony is now expected to shift to the impact of Bowers' crimes on survivors and the victims' loved ones. If jurors decide Bowers deserves to die, it would be the first federal death sentence imposed during Joe Biden's presidency. Biden campaigned on a pledge to end capital punishment, but federal prosecutors continue to pursue the death penalty in some cases.

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Bowers, 50, a truck driver from suburban Baldwin, killed members of three congregations who had gathered at the Tree of Life synagogue on Oct. 27, 2018. He also wounded two worshippers and five police officers. Bowers was convicted last month on 63 criminal counts, including hate crimes resulting in death and obstruction of the free exercise of religion resulting in death. His attorneys offered a guilty plea in return for a life sentence, but prosecutors refused, opting instead to take the case to trial and pursue the death penalty. Most of the victims' families supported that decision.

(More synagogue shooting stories.)

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