The federal death sentence prosecution of a truck driver charged with killing 11 Jewish worshipers at a Pittsburgh synagogue in the bloodiest antisemitic attack in American history will begin jury selection on Monday.
In connection with the attack on the Tree of Life synagogue on October 27, 2018, which occurred there as members of three Jewish congregations were holding Sabbath activities, Robert G. Bowers, a resident of the Pittsburgh suburb of Baldwin, is charged with 63 crimes. The accusations include 11 counts of hate crimes that resulted in death and 11 counts of obstructing the free exercise of religion.
Bowers, 50, might be given the death penalty if found guilty. His offer to accept a life sentence in exchange for a guilty plea was rejected by federal prosecutors. Recently, his attorneys added that he suffers from schizophrenia as well as anatomical and functional brain damage.
The guns found on him at the crime scene where police shot Bowers three times before he surrendered will be revealed to the jury during the trial along with the allegedly incriminating statements he made to investigators, the online trail of antisemitic remarks that the prosecution claims prove the attack was carried out because of religious hatred, and other evidence.
Although there was disagreement among the slain victims’ families on whether the government should seek the death penalty, the majority supported it.
In court documents, the prosecution stated that they might use autopsy reports and 911 tapes, including recordings of two calls from victims who were later shot to death, during the trial. A Colt AR-15 rifle, three Glock.357 handguns, and hundreds of cartridge boxes, bullets, and gunshot fragments are among the items they claim to have as evidence.
Seven other people were hurt by Bowers, including five responding police officers, according to the authorities.
Prosecutors claimed in a document filed earlier this month that Bowers “harbored deep, murderous animosity towards all Jewish people” and “expressed hatred for HIAS,” a nonprofit organization that aids refugees and asylum seekers and was formed as the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society.
Officer David Blahut testified that Bowers told him “These people are committing genocide on my people and I want to kill Jews.” Officer Clint Thimons said Bowers was “very calm and he said he’s had enough and that Jews are killing our children and the Jews had to die.”
In a court complaint, prosecutors stated that Bowers had around 400 followers on the social media platform Gab, “to whom he promoted his anti-Semitic views and calls to violence against Jews.”
The trial will be presided over by U.S. District Judge Robert Colville, who was appointed to the bench more than three years ago by President Donald Trump. In the past, he served as a county judge in Pittsburgh for almost two decades.
Since the shootings, Tree of Life, Dor Hadash, and New Light congregations have all condemned antisemitism and other types of intolerance. The Tree of Life Congregation is also collaborating with others on ideas for a structure that would hold a sanctuary, museum, monument, and center for combating antisemitism on top of its still-standing synagogue.