Pittsburgh Synagogue Mass Shooter Found Guilty, Prosecutors to Pursue Death Sentence
The gunman charged with the mass shooting inside Pittsburgh’s Tree of Life synagogue, killing 11 and injuring six others using an AR-15 rifle and three handguns, was convicted on Friday. A Pennsylvania jury found Robert Bowers, 50, guilty on all 63 counts, including hate crimes and civil rights charges, was responsible for the deadliest antisemitic attack in U.S. history.
Now the trial moves to the penalty phase, as prosecutors seek the death penalty.
Bowers’ guilt was never in question—his lawyers conceded from the beginning that he was responsible for the deadly mass shooting—and jurors needed roughly five hours to deliver a verdict. During three weeks of wrenching emotional testimony, prosecutors described Bowers’ virulent antisemitism, evidenced in his prolific online behavior, that showed him “dedicated to the eradication of Jews,” as one DOJ prosecutor put it.
Bowers’ capital offenses include 11 counts of “obstructing free exercise of religious beliefs resulting in death” and 11 counts of “hate crimes resulting in death.”
“I am grateful to God for getting us to this day,” Tree of Life Rabbi Jeffrey Myers, who survived the attack, said in a written statement. “And I am thankful for the law enforcement who ran into danger to rescue me, and the U.S. Attorney who stood up in court to defend my right to pray.”
As the trial moves into its next phase, expected to last over a month, jurors will have to decide whether Bowers should be sentenced to death or life in prison without parole. Bowers’ attorneys originally sought a plea deal that would have guaranteed him a life sentence without the possibility of parole, but prosecutors refused and took the case to trial to seek the death penalty.
Most of the shooting victims’ families supported this decision, though one of the congregations housed at Tree of Life sent a letter to then-Attorney General Bill Barr asking him to seek a plea deal, which they argued “would have prevented the attacker from getting the attention and publicity that will inevitably come with a trial, and eliminated any possibility of further trauma that could result from a trial and protracted appeals. The rabbi of another congregation housed at the synagogue wrote to Barr with a similar request, calling the death penalty a “cruel form of justice” and citing evidence that the Jewish religious tradition opposes capital punishment.
Bowers’ defense team includes Judy Clarke, a lawyer well known for defending mass killers who face capital punishment. Clarke has represented one of the Boston Marathon bombers, who did receive a death sentence, as well as the Unabomber Ted Kaczynski and the Arizona shooter who killed six and injured then-Representative Gabrielle Giffords, both of whom avoided the death penalty.