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PA shooter turned synagogue into 'hunting ground,' said 'all these Jews need to die': prosecutor

Prosecutors argued Thursday that Robert Bowers, who in 2018 killed 11 people at a Pittsburgh synagogue, was "filled with hatred for Jews" and treated the scene as a "hunting ground."

A truck driver who hated Jewish people turned a sacred house of worship into a "hunting ground" when he burst into a Pittsburgh synagogue and killed 11 congregants, a federal prosecutor said Thursday, asking jurors to return a conviction in the nation’s deadliest antisemitic attack.

Robert Bowers is charged with 63 criminal counts, including hate crimes resulting in death and obstruction of the free exercise of religion resulting in death. Some of the charges carry a potential death sentence.

In closing arguments Thursday, a prosecutor told the jury that Bowers targeted his victims because of their religion.


"He is filled with hatred for Jews," prosecutor Mary Hahn said, noting Bowers had an extensive history of posting antisemitic and white supremacist content online. "That is what propelled him to act."

Bowers fired about 100 rounds that day. He 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, Hahn said. Bowers, who traded gunfire with responding officers and was shot three times, told police that "all these Jews need to die," she said.

The prosecutor said one couple, Bernice and Sylvan Simon, "died in the pew they sat at week after week, year after year." Many of the victims were elderly, "people who needed canes and hearing aides." Reading the names of each of the 11 victims he killed, Hahn asked the jury to "hold this defendant accountable ... and hold him accountable for those who cannot testify."

Bowers' attorney was to be given an opportunity to address the jury later Thursday, with deliberations on a verdict to follow.


The defense did not call any witnesses or present any evidence after conceding at the trial's outset that he attacked and killed worshippers at the Tree of Life synagogue on Oct. 27, 2018. Seven people were injured in the attack, including five police officers.

Prosecutors presented evidence of the 50-year-old's deep-seated animosity toward Jews and immigrants. Over 11 days of testimony, jurors learned that Bowers had extensively posted, shared or liked antisemitic and white supremacist content on Gab, a social media platform popular with the far right, and praised Hitler and the Holocaust. On the morning of the attack, Bowers made reference to a Jewish organization that helps refugees settle in the United States.

The defense has sought to raise questions about motive, suggesting to jurors in its opening statement last month that his rampage was not spurred by antisemitism but his delusional belief that Jews were committing genocide by helping refugees settle in the United States.

Assuming the jury returns a conviction, the trial would enter what’s expected to be a lengthy penalty phase, with the same jurors deciding Bowers’ sentence: life in prison or the death penalty. Bowers’ attorneys have focused their efforts on trying to save his life.

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