07 Aug Jury Recommends Death Penalty in 2018 Pittsburgh Synagogue Shooting
By Michael J. Fitzgerald
A federal jury in Pittsburgh has unanimously recommended the death penalty for a Pennsylvania man convicted of killing 11 congregants at the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh in October 2018.
The jury recommendation came after two months of trial.
The jury found 50-year-old Robert Bowers guilty on 63 counts, including hate crimes that included obstruction of the free exercise of religion resulting in death.
During the sentence selection phase of the trial, the jury heard testimony on aggravating and mitigating factors before arriving at its unanimous recommendation of a death sentence for Bowers.
The aggravating factors, or the reasons for the death penalty, include the killings and the physical and psychological toll the shooting continues to take on the survivors. The mitigating factors, or the reasons for a lesser punishment, “include the gunman’s troubled childhood and the psychological issues allegedly plaguing his entire family,” according to CBS Chicago.
“The horrific attack at the Tree of Life Synagogue on October 27, 2018, stole the lives of 11 innocent victims, shattered their families, gutted their congregation and the Pittsburgh community, and struck fear in the lives of Jewish people across the country,” said U.S. Attorney General Merrick B. Garland in a press release.
The people killed ranged in age from 54 to 97.
“Hate crimes like this one inflict irreparable pain on individual victims and their loved ones and lead entire communities to question their very belonging,” Garland continued. “All Americans deserve to live free from the fear of hate-fueled violence and the Justice Department will hold accountable those who perpetrate such acts.”
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Bowers drove to the synagogue in Pittsburgh, where members of the Tree of Life, Dor Hadash, and New Light Jewish congregations had gathered to engage in religious worship. He entered the building with three Glock .357 handguns and a Colt AR-15 rifle. When inside, Bowers opened fire, killing and injuring members of the three congregations, as well as injuring multiple responding police officers as they attempted to rescue surviving victims.
Officials said evidence proved the defendant acted because of white supremacist, antisemitic and bigoted views. The evidence showed that the defendant meticulously planned his attack based on his violently antisemitic beliefs, reflected in dozens of online posts admitted into evidence.
“When people who espouse white supremacist, anti-Semitic, and bigoted views pick up weapons and use them to kill or try to kill people because of their faith, our Office and our partners in law enforcement will hold them accountable to the fullest extent of the law. Each and every time,” said U.S. Attorney Eric Olshan for the Western District of Pennsylvania.
Bowers was formally sentenced to death by U.S. District Court Judge Robert Coville on Aug. 3. However, Bowers is expected to appeal, and the appeals process can last for years. Additionally, a federal moratorium on executions is still in place since Garland imposed it July 1, 2021.
This resource is supported in whole or in part by funding provided by the State of California, administered by the California State Library in partnership with the California Department of Social Services and the California Commission on Asian and Pacific Islander American Affairs as part of the Stop the Hate program. To report a hate incident or hate crime and get support, go to CA vs Hate.