Gunman found guilty on all charges Pittsburgh synagogue massacre


The case will move to the sentencing phase, where jurors will decide whether Robert Bowers gets the death penalty in a process that could take 6 weeks

Jurors found the man accused of shooting and killing 11 worshippers at a Pittsburgh synagogue guilty on all federal charges Friday.

Robert Bowers now faces the possibility of the death penalty in the Oct. 27, 2018, shooting in Squirrel Hill.

Jurors signaled the court about 11:20 a.m. that they’d reached a verdict. The jury received the case shortly after 2:30 p.m. Thursday and left for the day around 5 p.m. They deliberated for about 2 1/2 hours Friday morning.

Court reconvened shortly before noon.

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On June 15, 2023, day 12 of the synagogue shooting trial, Assistant U.S. Attorney Mary Hahn presents her closing argument for the prosecution.
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The readings of the verdicts came in quickly, starting with the 11 counts of obstruction of free exercise of religious beliefs resulting in death and 11 counts of a hate crime act resulting in death.

Those charges were all related to the 11 worshippers who were killed in the massacre: Joyce Fienberg, Richard Gottfried, Rose Mallinger, Jerry Rabinowitz, Cecil and David Rosenthal, Bernice and Sylvan Simon, Daniel Stein, Melvin Wax, Irving Younger.

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Prosecutors spent 10 days walking  jurors — 12 deliberating jurors and five alternates — through each detail of the massacre, which remains the deadliest antisemitic attack on U.S. soil.

The synagogue at the corner of Shady and Wilkins avenues housed three congregations: Tree of Life, New Light, Dor Hadash. The Tree of Life congregation owned the hulking Squirrel Hill synagogue, and its name was emblazoned on the side in English and in Hebrew. “Tree of Life” became the grim moniker for the mass shooting.

Eleven worshippers were killed that morning. They are Joyce Fienberg, Richard Gottfried, Rose Mallinger, Jerry Rabinowitz, Cecil and David Rosenthal, Bernice and Sylvan Simon, Daniel Stein, Melvin Wax, Irving Younger.

Prosecutors put the extent of the carnage on full display over the course of their case, showing jurors crime scene and autopsy photos and playing frantic 911 calls from congregants inside the synagogue. One call played was from Bernice Simon. The recording captured her panicked pleas for help, her terror as more shots were fired, and her final breaths.

SWAT officers and tactical paramedics described a trail of destruction beginning at the main entrance to the massive synagogue where Mr. Bowers shot out a large glass window. Later, he would fire through an adjacent glass door toward patrol officers Dan Mead and Michael Smidga.


On day seven of the Robert Bowers trial, Michele Rosenthal (left), sister of synagogue shooting victims Cecil and David Rosenthal, observes the proceedings along with other family members of synagogue shooting victims.
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Some of the first responders choked back emotion through their testimony, speaking about the death Mr. Bowers left in his wake.

SWAT Officer John Persin described the smell of iron from the blood, a memory that’s stuck with him, he said June 6. SWAT Officer Justin LaPaglia told jurors about the eerie silence in his June 8 testimony.

“They invade my thoughts every day — the violence, the smells, the sights,” Officer Persin said.

“There were no noises whatsoever. I could hear the rifle casings on the floor,” said Officer LaPaglia.

Mr. Bowers’ attorneys had, since opening arguments, not shied away from the fact that Mr. Bowers was the shooter.

“He shot every person he saw,” lead defense attorney Judy Clarke said in her opening statements.

Federal public defender Elisa A. Long reiterated that in her brief closing arguments Thursday afternoon.

“There is no dispute that on Oct. 27, 2018, Robert Bowers entered the Tree of Life synagogue with an AR-15 … and shot every person he saw,” she told jurors. “In the process, he killed 11 innocent people.”

Ms. Long told jurors to examine Mr. Bowers’ true intent that morning — “why he did what he did and what thought he would accomplish by doing so.”

His real intent, she said, was to stop the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society, a Jewish faith-based refugee resettlement organization. Dor Hadash participated in HIAS programs. In Mr. Bowers mind, Ms. Long said, he needed to stop Dor Hadash from supporting HIAS, who he believed was bringing “invaders” into his country.

U.S. Attorney Eric G. Olshan, in his rebuttal to the defense, balked at the idea that HIAS was the target of Mr. Bowers’ hate.

“That man, Robert Bowers, went into the Tree of Life synagogue where three congregations, not just Dor Hadash, were worshipping,” he said. “He focused on any Jew he could find to kill or try to kill. You don’t have to conclude hatred of Jews was his only reason, just the determinative one.”

First Published June 16, 2023, 6:24am

Source: Pittsburgh Post-Gazette


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