On Monday, the jury selection process will begin in the federal death sentence prosecution of the truck driver accused of killing 11 Jewish worshippers in the worst antisemitic attack in U.S. history at a Pittsburgh synagogue.
63 charges have been filed against Robert G. Bowers, a resident of the Pittsburgh suburb of Baldwin, for the attack on the Tree of Life synagogue on October 27, 2018, as worshippers from three different Jewish congregations were present. There are eleven counts of murder related to the alleged acts of hate and obstruction of religious freedom.
Bowers, now 50, faces the death penalty if he is found guilty. Federal prosecutors rejected his offer to plead guilty in exchange for a life sentence. Recently, his legal team has claimed that he suffers from schizophrenia as well as structural and functional brain impairments.
The guns recovered from the scene where police shot Bowers three times before he surrendered will be discussed during the trial, as will the incriminating statements he allegedly made to investigators and the online trail of antisemitic statements that prosecutors say shows the attack was motivated by religious hatred.
It was a contentious issue among victims’ loved ones whether or not the government should seek the death sentence. In court documents, prosecutors suggested that they were considering playing 911 audio and autopsy reports at trial, including recordings of two calls from victims who were later shot and killed.
A Colt AR-15 rifle, three Glock.357 handguns, and hundreds of cartridge casings, bullets, and gunshot fragments are among the items they claim they found. Seven others, including five responding police officers, were hurt by Bowers, according to the investigation.
Prosecutors stated earlier this month that Bowers “harbored deep, murderous animosity towards all Jewish people.” HIAS, originally known as the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society, is a charitable organization that provides aid to refugees and people seeking asylum.
Officer Clint Thimons said at Bowers’ 2021 pretrial hearing that the defendant was “very calm and he said he’s had enough and that Jews are killing our children and the Jews had to die.” Another officer, David Blahut, said Bowers told him “these people are committing genocide on my people and I want to kill Jews.”
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In a court document, prosecutors claimed that Bowers had roughly 400 followers on the social media platform Gab“to whom he promoted his anti-Semitic views and calls to violence against Jews.” More than three years after being appointed by President Trump, U.S. District Judge Robert Colville will preside over the trial. He served as a county judge in Pittsburgh for over twenty years before that.
Since the shootings, all three synagogues — Tree of Life, Dor Hadash, and New Light — have issued statements condemning antisemitism and other forms of intolerance.
The Tree of Life Congregation is collaborating with others to restore its intact synagogue, which will become part of a larger complex that will include a place of worship, a museum, a memorial, and a resource center dedicated to combating anti-Semitism.
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