Federal prosecutors to seek death penalty for Pittsburgh synagogue shooter

A memorial for the victims of the Tree of Life synagogue shooting in Pittsburgh. (Hane Grace Yagel)

by Marcy Oster

(JTA) — Federal prosecutors said they will seek the death penalty for the Pittsburgh synagogue gunman.

In a court filing late Monday August 26, prosecutors said “a sentence of death is justified” in 22 of the 63 federal charges against Robert Bowers, citing his premeditation, planning, anti-Semitic motivation and the number of victims. They also noted his “lack of remorse.”

Bowers is accused of opening fire on worshippers at the Tree of Life synagogue building on Oct. 27 during Shabbat morning services. He was armed with an AR-15 and three handguns, according to the indictment. He allegedly yelled “I want to kill all Jews” during the attack.

Bowers had previously made statements against the Jewish immigration advocacy agency HIAS and Jews on the website gab.com.

Prosecutors said in the filing with the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Pennsylvania that Bowers “targeted men and women participating in Jewish religious worship … to maximize the devastation, amplify the harm of his crimes, and instill fear within the local, national and international Jewish communities.”

Bowers pleaded not guilty to the original charges at his Nov. 1 arraignment and has requested a jury trial.

Attorney General William Barr announced last month that the Justice Department would be resuming capital punishment for federal prisoners, which has not been employed since 2003.

The filing comes despite a request from Rabbi Jonathan Perlman, whose New Light Congregation lost three worshippers in the October attack, that prosecutors eschew the death penalty and that Bowers receive a life sentence without parole in order to “meditate” on his crime and “live with it forever.”

Perlman earlier this month wrote a letter to Barr “as a victim of the attack,” reminding him that “both our religious traditions, yours Catholic and mine Jewish, vigorously oppose the death penalty.”

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