The man who killed 11 people in a Pittsburgh synagogue in 2018 may receive the death penalty, a federal jury announced Thursday, with the process continuing with evidence and testimony to decide whether the penalty should be life imprisonment or death.
The government has called for the death penalty for Robert Bowers, who posted violently anti-Semitic writing online before storming the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh with an AR-15 assault rifle and other weapons. It was the most serious anti-Semitic attack in the country's history. The jury accepted the prosecution's argument that Bowers — who planned the attack for six months and has since said he regrets not killing more people — legally intended to kill.
Bowers' lawyers argued that he was unable to craft an intent due to mental illness and a delusion that by killing Jews he could prevent the genocide of white people.
Jurors found that Bowers had intent to kill, that the attack was the product of careful planning and that it targeted vulnerable and elderly people. He showed little emotion during the verdict reading.
Future testimony will predictably address the impact of Bowers' crimes on survivors and loved ones of the victims.
Bowers, a 50-year-old trucker, killed members of three congregations who had gathered at the Tree of Life Synagogue on October 27, 2018. He injured two other parishioners and five police officers.
Bowers was convicted last month of lethal hate crimes and fatally impeding the free exercise of religion. His lawyers offered to convict him in exchange for a life sentence, but prosecutors opted to go to trial and seek the death penalty. Most of the relatives of the victims supported the decision.
If the jury sentences him to death, it will be the first federal capital punishment under the Joe Biden presidency. Candidate Biden promised during the campaign to seek the abolition of the death penalty, but federal prosecutors request it in certain cases.