Robert Bowers Sentenced to Death in 2018 Pittsburgh Synagogue Shooting
The jury reached the verdict after nearly 10 hours of deliberation in the three-phase federal trial nearly five years after he massacred 11 worshipers at a Squirrel Hill synagogue.
A jury has unanimously sentenced Robert G. Bowers to death in the Oct. 27, 2018 Pittsburgh synagogue attack that claimed the lives of 11 Jewish worshipers in Squirrel Hill. Deliberation took about 10 hours over two days.
Bowers, 50, of Baldwin Borough, was convicted of massacring the worshipers — and injuring six others — of three synagogue congregations that were meeting at the Tree of Life Synagogue in the deadliest antisemitic attack in U.S. history. Formal sentencing will take place on Thursday.
The 11 victims of the three congregations — Tree of Life, New Light and Dor Hadash — were Joyce Fienberg, Richard Gottfried, Rose Mallinger, Jerry Rabinowitz, Cecil Rosenthal, David Rosenthal, Bernice Simon, Sylvan Simon, Daniel Stein, Irving Younger and Melvin Wax.
“I feel like a weight has been lifted and I can breathe a sigh of relief,” said Leigh Stein, daughter of Daniel Stein, a few hours after the jury issued its decision.
Bowers’ trial began May 30 after a month of jury selection. The capital trial was separated into three phases — the guilt phase and two penalty phases, one to determine if he was eligible for the death penalty in the case.
Bowers was found guilty of all 63 counts, including criminal homicide, attempted criminal homicide and ethnic intimidation, in June. He had asked for the death penalty to be thrown out if he pleaded guilty to the crimes, but U.S. District Judge Robert Colville denied the request.
Rabbi Jeffrey Myers of the Tree of Life Congregation, who survived the attack, said in a statement Wednesday, “Now that the trial is nearly over and the jury has recommended a death sentence, it is my hope that we can begin to heal and move forward. As we do, I have my faith, bolstered by the embrace and respect with which my community has been treated by our government and our fellow citizens. For this and the seriousness with which the jury took its duty, I remain forever grateful.”
U.S. Attorney Eric Olshan said there was little doubt what fueled the attack. “The evidence in this trial proved that the defendant acted because of white supremacist, antisemitic and bigoted views.”
A statement from New Light Congregation noted that while its members accept the sentence, not all agree with it. “Many of our members prefer that the shooter spend the rest of his life in prison, questioning whether we should seek vengeance or revenge against him or whether his death would ‘make up’ for the lost lives. Vigorous debate continues about the purpose the death penalty serves.”
From Dor Hadash Congregation: “Eleven innocent people were murdered simply because they were Jews. Do not forget them. Our public discourse in this country has shifted to allow antisemitism and white supremacy into the mainstream. Our elected officials and the media need to combat white supremacist lies that the ‘white race’ is in danger of being replaced and Jews are to blame. And easy access to guns allows hate-filled people to make their antisemitic beliefs deadly.
“Politicians, legislators, religious leaders, and others in positions of power must recognize that their rhetoric has power and renounce such bigotry and hatred.”
“We’re all members of a club that we never chose to be members of,” said Jodi Kart, daughter of Melvin Wax.
The Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh noted the resilience of the community. “In the wake of the horrors of the worst antisemitic attack in U.S. history, our community neither retreated from participating in Jewish life nor suppressed our Jewishness. Instead, our community embraced our Jewish values — strengthening Jewish life, supporting those in need, and building a safer, more inclusive world.”
In the first two phases of the trial, mental health experts weighed in during the defense’s testimony, suggesting Bowers suffers from schizophrenia and showed signs of permanent brain damage indicating he was incapable of forming a “conscious intent to kill,” according to a New York Times article.
The prosecution’s witnesses countered that argument, saying although Bowers had been emotionally abused as a child, he was not seriously mentally ill nor delusional.
Testimony also showed Bowers planned the attack for 6 months and he had posted numerous antisemitic memes and was engaged in antisemitic conspiracy theories on the social media network, Gab, which was launched in 2016 as an alternative to Facebook and Twitter where users could freely express their views, including hate speech.
The jury deliberated for two hours on July 13 before reaching a unanimous decision that said Bowers was eligible for the death penalty.
During the third phase of the trial, victims’ family members recounted their grief and trauma, and shared details about their loved ones’ lives with the court, including photos of them smiling during bar mitzvahs, weddings and other events. Jurors were also shown pictures of the victims at the crime scene during the prosecution’s closing arguments.
The defense also called upon Bowers’ relatives during the third phase of the trial to paint the picture of his troublesome childhood, asking jurors to look at Bowers’ entire life and not just the massacre.
In other reaction to the death penalty decision, the families of Rose Mallinger and Bernice and Sylvan Simon stated: “We thank the jury for their hard work and determination while upholding the law. We know the evidence has not been easy to see or hear, and we will never be able to thank them enough for their poise and professionalism.”