A 50-year-old truck driver from Baldwin in Pennsylvania has been found guilty of all 63 charges stemming from a horrific mass shooting that took place at the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh, on October 18, 2018. Robert Bowers, shouted antisemitic insults, shot and killed eleven people, and injured seven others, including police officers responding to the call, before surrendering.
BREAKING: The gunman in the Pittsburgh synagogue massacre in 2018 was found guilty in the deadliest attack on Jewish people in U.S. history. https://t.co/K24y5PGVRA
— The Associated Press (@AP) June 16, 2023
We reported the following at the time:
A shooting took place earlier today at a Pittsburgh Synagogue, in the Squirrel Hills neighborhood near downtown Pittsburgh. It happened just before 10 am EDT. Multiple media outlets in the United States have reported that the suspect, Robert Bowers, 46, was captured alive by the police.
He allegedly yelled a number of ethnic slurs, including “ALL JEWS MUST DIE.”
It took the jury about five hours to find Bowers on all counts. Bowers may now be facing the death penalty because 11 of the counts were capital offenses. The sentencing process will begin on 26th June.
It was inevitable that the guilty verdict would be handed down after Robert Bowers’ own lawyers admitted at the beginning of the trial that he had attacked and killed worshippers in the Tree of Life Synagogue in October 2018, the deadliest attack against Jews in U.S. History. The jury must decide if the 50-year-old should be sentenced to death or life in prison with no parole. As the federal trial moves to the penalty phase, which is expected to last for several weeks, they will have to make a decision.
Bowers was found guilty of all 63 charges against him, including hate crimes that resulted in death and obstructions of free exercise of faith resulting in death. Bowers’ attorneys offered to plead guilty in exchange for a life term, but the prosecutors declined, choosing instead to go to trial and seek the death penalty. The majority of victims’ families supported the decision.
Bowers’ lawyers chose not to defend him in the first phase of the trial.
In the three-week-long trial, jurors heard testimony from survivors, officers of police, and others. The prosecution rested its case on June 14. Bowers’ lawyers rested their case the same day, without presenting any evidence or calling anyone to testify.
The focus now shifts to the punishment phase. Bowers’ lawyers will try to save his own life, while the prosecution will hear testimony from survivors and family of the dead about the impact that the shooting had on their lives.
This is a federal case, and there’s an additional wrinkle because the Biden administration temporarily halted executions on the federal level.
The trial was held three years after Joe Biden, during his 2020 presidential campaign, said that he would fight to end capital punishment on the federal level as well as in those states that still practice it. Merrick Garland has temporarily suspended executions in order to review policies. Federal prosecutors are continuing to work hard to enforce death sentences already issued and in some cases to pursue the death sentence at trial, such as in Bowers case.