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Guilty verdict expected in trial for Pittsburgh synagogue shooter who killed 11 worshippers

A guilty verdict is expected in the trial of Robert Bowers. Bower's lawyers acknowledged he carried out the shooting that killed 11 Jewish worshippers at a Pittsburgh synagogue.

A jury on Thursday began sifting through a mountain of evidence against the truck driver who burst into a Pittsburgh synagogue and killed 11 congregants, a guilty verdict all but assured after the defendant’s own lawyers acknowledged he carried out the nation’s deadliest antisemitic attack.

Robert Bowers was motivated by his hatred of Jewish people when he turned a sacred house of worship into a "hunting ground," a federal prosecutor told the jury before the start of deliberations. Jurors spent about two hours weighing dozens of criminal counts against the 50-year-old before going home for the day.

Deliberations were set to resume Friday morning. The government is seeking a death sentence.

"There can be no forgiveness," said a statement released by New Light Congregation, one of three Jewish congregations that came under attack in the Tree of Life synagogue on Oct. 27, 2018. "Forgiveness requires two components: that it is offered by the person who commits the wrong and is accepted by the person who was wronged. The shooter has not asked — and the dead cannot accept."


In closing arguments, 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’ attorney, Elisa Long, countered that Bowers was not trying to stop people from worshipping — an element of some of the crimes he is charged with — when he attacked the synagogue. Rather, she said in her closing argument Thursday, that Bowers had the "nonsensical and irrational" belief that he had to attack Jews because of their support for efforts to help immigrants and refugees, people he viewed as invaders.

Her argument brought a sharp retort from prosecutors. Bowers targeted a synagogue in the Squirrel Hill neighborhood, "the center of the Jewish universe" in Pittsburgh, and attacked worshippers in yarmulkes and prayer shawls on the Jewish Sabbath, U.S. Attorney Eric Olshan reminded the jury.

"These aren’t people engaging in refugee assistance. These are people who are practicing their faith," Olshan said. "And he kept hunting, looking for Jews to kill."

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 Tree of Life. Seven people were injured in the attack, including five police officers.


Bowers is charged with 63 criminal counts, including hate crimes resulting in death and obstruction of the free exercise of religion resulting in death.

Prosecutors presented evidence of Bowers' 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.

Armed with an AR-15 rifle and other guns, Bowers fired about 100 rounds in the attack. 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 told the jury. 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."

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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