Crime

Pittsburgh synagogue gunman sentenced to death in antisemitic attack

The 2018 mass shooting at the Tree of Life synagogue is the deadliest attack on Jews in U.S. history.

Pittsburgh synagogue gunman sentenced to death in antisemitic attack
Gene J. Puskar/AP
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The man who killed 11 congregants at a Pittsburgh synagogue was formally sentenced to death Thursday, one day after a jury determined that capital punishment was appropriate for the perpetrator of the deadliest attack on Jews in U.S. history.

U.S. District Judge Robert Colville imposed the sentence on Robert Bowers, a 50-year-old truck driver whose vicious antisemitism led him to shoot his way into a place of worship and target people for practicing their faith.

"I have nothing specific that I care to say to Mr. Bowers," Colville said before issuing the formal sentence. "I am, however, convinced there is nothing I could say to him that might be meaningful."

Bowers ranted about Jews online before carrying out the attack at Tree of Life synagogue on Oct. 27, 2018, and told police at the scene that "all these Jews must die." He has since expressed pride in the killings.

Jurors were unanimous in finding that Bowers’ attack was motivated by his hatred of Jews and that he chose Tree of Life for its location in one of the largest and most historic Jewish communities in the nation so he could "maximize the devastation, amplify the harm of his crimes, and instill fear within the local, national, and international Jewish communities." They also found that Bowers lacked remorse.

Pittsburgh synagogue gunman will be sentenced to death
Pittsburgh synagogue gunman will be sentenced to death

Pittsburgh synagogue gunman will be sentenced to death

The same federal jury that convicted Robert Bowers recommended Wednesday that he be put to death for the antisemitic attack.

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The jury rejected the defense's claims that Bowers has schizophrenia and that his delusions about Jewish people spurred the attack.

It was the first federal death sentence imposed during the presidency of Joe Biden, who pledged during his 2020 campaign to end capital punishment. Biden’s Justice Department has placed a moratorium on federal executions and has declined to authorize the death penalty in hundreds of new cases where it could apply. But federal prosecutors said death was the appropriate punishment for Bowers, citing the vulnerability of his mainly elderly victims and his hate-based targeting of a religious community.

An appeal is expected, meaning that Bowers will likely still spend years on federal death row even if the Justice Department lifts the moratorium on executions.

Bowers, who was armed with an AR-15 rifle and other weapons, also shot and wounded seven, including five responding police officers.

He was convicted in June of 63 federal counts, including hate crimes resulting in death and obstruction of the free exercise of religion resulting in death.

Armed volunteers protecting synagogues amid rise in antisemitism
Armed volunteers protecting synagogues amid rise in antisemitism

Armed volunteers protecting synagogues amid rise in antisemitism

Last year the Anti-Defamation League received allegations of more than 3,600 antisemitic incidents, the most the organization has ever recorded.

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