US to seek death penalty for accused Pittsburgh synagogue shooter

New Delhi, India Published: Aug 27, 2019, 07:52 AM(IST)

Robert Bowers. Photograph:( AFP )

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Robert Bowers, 46, shouted 'all Jews must die' as he fired on congregants gathered for Sabbath services at the Tree of Life synagogue on October 27, authorities said.

US prosecutors will seek the death penalty for a Pennsylvania man accused of bursting into a Pittsburgh synagogue last year with a semi-automatic rifle and shooting 11 people to death, according to court papers filed on Monday.

Robert Bowers, 46, shouted "all Jews must die" as he fired on congregants gathered for Sabbath services at the Tree of Life synagogue on October 27, authorities said.

Bowers, who is from a Pittsburgh suburb, has pleaded not guilty in US District Court in Pittsburgh to a 63-count indictment and is awaiting trial though a trial date has not been set. The charges include using a firearm to commit murder and obstruction of free exercise of religious belief resulting in death, the court filing said.

"Robert Bowers expressed hatred and contempt toward members of the Jewish faith and his animus toward members of the Jewish faith played a role in the killings," prosecutors said.

The massacre at the Tree of Life synagogue was the deadliest attack ever on Jewish Americans in the United States.

The synagogue is a fixture in Pittsburgh's historically Jewish neighbourhood of Squirrel Hill, which is home to one of the largest and oldest Jewish populations in the United States.

Bowers targeted that location "to maximize the devastation, amplify the harm of his crimes and instil fear within the local, national and international Jewish communities," prosecutors said in court papers.

An attorney for Bowers, death penalty specialist Judy Clarke, did not return calls or an email seeking comment.

'Drawn out and difficult'

The Tree of Life synagogue hosted multiple Jewish congregations and, according to the New York Times, some people who worshipped there have opposed the possibility of the death penalty for Bowers.

According to the newspaper, Rabbi Jonathan Perlman of New Light Congregation, which met at Tree of Life, said in a letter to US Attorney General William Barr that "a drawn-out and difficult death penalty trial would be a disaster with witnesses and attorneys dredging up horrifying drama and giving this killer the media attention he does not deserve."

Perlman did not immediately return an email seeking comment.

Among those killed were a 97-year-old woman and a married couple in their 80s. Two civilians and five police officers were wounded before the gunman, who was armed with an assault-style rifle and three handguns, was shot by police at the synagogue and surrendered. He has been held in jail since then.

The mass shooting followed a rise in the number of hate crimes and the number of hate groups in the United States, according to separate reports from the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Southern Poverty Law Center.

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