A jury in Pittsburgh recommended a death sentence for Robert Bowers, the gunman who murdered 11 people and wounded seven others at the Tree of Life synagogue in 2018.
A jury in Pittsburgh recommended a death sentence for Robert Bowers, the gunman who murdered 11 people and wounded seven others at the Tree of Life synagogue in 2018. The mass shooting was the deadliest antisemitic attack in American history.
- The 12-member jury had to reach a unanimous verdict to recommend the death penalty. They found the 50-year-old Bowers guilty of all 63 charges stemming from the massacre after ten hours of deliberations over two days.
- As the Jewish Telegraphic Agency observed, Bowers’ death sentence “makes him the most prominent person to be condemned to death for antisemitic crimes since Adolf Eichmann, convicted and executed by Israel in 1962 for his role in perpetrating the Holocaust.”
- Bowers, a truck driver from Baldwin, a suburb of Pittsburgh, had a history of posting about his hatred of Jewish people and white supremacist beliefs online before planning the attack on Tree of Life, a synagogue in Pittsburgh’s Squirrel Hill neighborhood that is home to three congregations.
- On Oct. 27, 2018, Bowers stormed the synagogue shouting “All Jews must die!” He shot and killed eleven worshippers, who ranged in age from 54 to 97: Joyce Feinberg, Richard Gottfried, Rose Mallinger, Jerry Rabinowitz, Cecil and David Rosenthal, Bernice and Sylvan Simon, Daniel Stein, Melvin Wax, and Irving Younger.
- Bowers also wounded two other congregants and five police officers who responded to the scene of the attack. Several survivors were present at the hearing, including Officer Timothy Matson, who endured 25 surgeries after Bowers shot him during the attack on the synagogue.
- The jury unanimously agreed on aggravating factors that warranted the death penalty. They found that his actions were motivated by his hatred of Jewish people, he lacked remorse, and he chose Tree of Life because it was located in one of the largest and oldest Jewish neighborhoods in the United States to “maximize the devastation, amplify the harm of his crimes, and instill fear within the local, national, and international Jewish communities.”
- Rabbi Jeffrey Myers, who survived the attack, said the verdict was the “closing chapter of an emotional, months-long trial.” Myers continued, “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.”
- Bowers will officially be sentenced to death by U.S. District Judge Robert Colville at a second hearing on Thursday. The appeals process in death penalty cases can take years. There is currently a moratorium on federal death sentences, although any future administration could reverse that policy.
- According to the New York Times, federal prosecutors refused several offers from Bowers’ defense team for him to plead guilty in exchange for life in prison without the possibility of parole. “The defendant doesn’t have schizophrenia,” said Eric Olshan, the U.S. attorney for the Western District of Pennsylvania, during closing arguments. “You know what’s inside of his mind… it’s filled with hate and common, extreme, white supremacist, antisemitic tropes.”
- CNN covered U.S. Attorney Olshan’s statement after the sentence was delivered. “It cannot bring back any of the 11 victims. No verdict can set things right or restore what was lost that morning,” Olshan said. “This case has always been about those who survived and those who bear witness to the ones who did not.”
- The Washington Post noted, “Bowers became the first person condemned to death by a federal jury since 2019, and the first under Attorney General Merrick Garland, who has taken steps to reduce capital punishment prosecutions and placed a moratorium on federal executions shortly after taking office in 2021.”
- The Wall Street Journal covered the prosecution’s final statements before the jury deliberated. “To him the only good Jew is a dead Jew,” U.S. Attorney Olshan said in his closing arguments, during which the prosecution played 911-call audio of congregants screaming in terror as they were shot and dying. “Do not be numb to that simple fact because it magnifies his crimes.”
- The New York Post reported the jury “heard in chilling detail how Bowers reloaded at least twice, stepped over the bloodied bodies of his victims to look for more people to shoot, and surrendered only when he ran out of ammunition.” At the trial, the gunman “showed little reaction to the proceeding that would decide his fate — typically looking down at papers or screens at the defense table.”
- Fox News covered the statement from the family of Rose Mallinger, who was 97 when she was killed next to her daughter Andrea Wedner, who was shot and wounded. “We thank the jury for their hard work and determination while upholding the law,” they said in the statement. “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. Although we will never attain closure from the loss of our beloved Rose Mallinger, we now feel a measure of justice has been served.”
© Dominic Moore, 2023