Trial Begins in Deadliest Antisemitic Attack in US History

Robert Bowers is on trial for the 11 deaths at the Tree of Life Synagogue
By Newser Editors and Wire Services
Posted May 30, 2023 2:43 PM CDT
Prosecutor: Synagogue Gunman Hated Jews
Undated Pennsylvania Department of Transportation photo shows Robert Bowers.   (Pennsylvania Department of Transportation via AP, File)

Prosecutors on Tuesday described how a heavily armed suspect barged into a Pittsburgh synagogue and shot every worshipper he could find in the deadliest antisemitic attack in US history, per the AP. Robert Bowers' federal trial got underway more than four years after the shooting deaths of 11 worshippers at the Tree of Life synagogue. "The depths of the defendant’s malice and hate can only be proven in the broken bodies" of the victims and "his hateful words," Assistant US Attorney Soo C. Song said during her opening statement. The defense was expected to present its opening statement before the prosecution began calling witnesses.

Bowers, 50, could face the death penalty if convicted of some of the 63 counts he faces in the Oct. 27, 2018, attack, which claimed the lives of worshippers from three congregations who were sharing the building: Dor Hadash, New Light, and Tree of Life. Charges include 11 counts each of obstruction of free exercise of religion resulting in death and hate crimes resulting in death. Prosecutors have said Bowers made antisemitic comments at the scene of the attack and online. In proceedings before and during juror questioning, the defense has done little to cast doubt on whether Bowers was the gunman and has instead focused on preventing his execution.

Bowers, a truck driver from the Pittsburgh suburb of Baldwin, had offered to plead guilty in return for a life sentence, but federal prosecutors turned him down. Bowers’ attorneys also recently said he has schizophrenia and brain impairments. In a filing earlier this year, prosecutors said Bowers "harbored deep, murderous animosity towards all Jewish people." They said he also expressed hatred for HIAS, founded as the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society, a nonprofit humanitarian group that helps refugees and asylum seekers. The Tree of Life congregation is working with partners on plans to overhaul its current structure, which still stands but has been closed since the shootings.

(Read more mass shootings stories.)

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