OAN Geraldyn Berry
UPDATED 5:15 PM – Monday, April 24, 2023
The death penalty trial for the 2018 massacre at Pittsburgh’s Tree of Life synagogue that killed 11 people has begun on Monday.
Robert Bowers had pleaded not guilty to 63 charges that included 11 counts of obstruction of free exercise of religion resulting in death and 11 counts of hate crimes resulting in death.
According to The Associated Press, he was prepared to plead guilty in exchange for a life sentence, but federal prosecutors refused. His lawyers have also recently claimed that Bowers suffers from “schizophrenia and structural and functional brain impairments.”
On October 27, 2018, Bowers reportedly invaded the synagogue, where members of three Jewish congregations were holding Sabbath activities. He killed 11 people and wounded six others in the bloodiest anti-Semitic incident in American history. Bowers was shot by police three times before he had surrendered.
According to authorities, Bowers had made messages on the social media platform Gab as well as uploaded and re-posted photographs with anti-Semitic themes as early as July 2018 to his over 400 followers.
“HIAS likes to bring invaders in that kill our people,” Bowers wrote in a Gab post immediately before the shooting. “I can’t sit by and watch my people get slaughtered. Screw your optics, I’m going in.”
In a criminal complaint, Bowers informed detectives after his detention that he intended to murder Jews. 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. Bowers allegedly targeted Tree of Life because of its membership’s support for refugees.
Since the shootings, the Tree of Life, Dor Hadash, and New Light have spoken out against anti-Semitism and other kinds of intolerance. All three congregations have been gathering in neighboring synagogues since the attack shuttered the Tree of Life building.
The Tree of Life Congregation is also collaborating with partners on plans to rehabilitate and reconstruct its still-standing synagogue by constructing a complex that will include a sanctuary, museum, memorial, and anti-antisemitism center.
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