Pittsburgh synagogue shooter sentenced to death

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Pittsburgh synagogue shooter sentenced to death

The sentence marks an end to the months-long trial of Robert Bowers, who was convicted in June of murdering 11 Jews during Shabbat prayers on October 27, 2018.

Pittsburgh victims
Pittsburgh victims

A jury has given the Pittsburgh synagogue shooter a death sentence, handing down the maximum punishment for the worst antisemitic attack in American history.

The sentence marks an end to the months-long trial of Robert Bowers, who was convicted in June of murdering 11 Jews during Shabbat prayers on October 27, 2018.

The shooting, at a synagogue in the historically Jewish neighbourhood of Squirrel Hill, changed the way Jews across the United States viewed themselves and their place in American society.

It was a stark example of a rising tide of antisemitism and led Jewish institutions across the country to bolster their physical security.

People light candles in Tel Aviv, Israel, in a commemoration of the victims of a deadly shooting at a Pittsburgh synagogue

The gunman’s lawyers had not contested his guilt but argued that the act was a result of his mental illness and did not merit a death sentence. On Wednesday, the jury rejected that argument, deciding unanimously that he should be put to death. Many of the victims’ families, though not all, had pushed for the gunman to receive a death sentence.

Bowers’ sentence makes him the most prominent person to be condemned to death for antisemitic crimes since Adolf Eichmann, convicted and executed by Israel in 1962 for his role in perpetrating the Holocaust.

U.S. District Judge Robert Colville, who has presided over the trial, is bound to honour the jury’s verdict. The jury’s decision, though, does not mark an end to the case, as Bowers, like all people sentenced to death, is entitled to an appeal.


Robert Bowers, the now sentenced Pittsburgh Tree of Life Synagogue shooter, is the most infamous person to be condemned to death for antisemitic crimes since Adolf Eichmann the architect of the Holocaust. The weight of the Eichmann comparison elevates the heinousness of Bower’s actions to a level of historical infamy. Our Editor, Richard Ferrer, explains.

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The verdict is a rare failure for Bowers’ lead attorney, Judy Clarke, who has represented some of the most high-profile murderers in recent U.S. history, including Ted Kaczynski, known as the Unabomber; the surviving Boston Marathon bomber; and the white supremacist who opened fire in a Jewish community centre outside of Los Angeles in 1999.

She had successfully argued in all but one case that the men should spend their lives in prison, not be executed for their crimes.

Stephen Cohen, the co-president of New Light, one of the three congregations targeted in the shooting, said earlier this week that he expected a measure of relief upon learning the verdict, whatever it was. But he said he did not expect it to be long-lasting.

“There’s a whole debate that has been going on for five years, you know, should there be a trial? Should he be forgiven? Should he get life imprisonment? Should he get the death penalty?” he said on Monday evening.

“And all the questions that are trying to get resolved… have been swirling around for five years. We all just want a resolution.”

Regarding the jury’s verdict, he added, “Is that a resolution one way or another? It is a resolution. And at that point, you know, maybe there’s a way to, to even move forward in a positive sense. But you know, it’s the death penalty. Then there’ll be appeals. And if there are appeals, you know, everybody will have to testify again in court. If he’s imprisoned, will he have the ability to speak? There are no good answers.”

Bowers killed 11 people who were worshipping at three congregations: Tree of Life, New Light and Dor Hadash. The victims were Joyce Fienberg, Richard Gottfried, Rose Mallinger, Jerry Rabinowitz, Cecil Rosenthal, David Rosenthal, Bernice Simon, Sylvan Simon, Daniel Stein, Melvin Wax and Irving Younger.

Bowers’ trial began on May 30. On June 16, the jury found him guilty of all 63 counts he faced. On July 13, the jury decided that his crimes were eligible for the death penalty.

Since 1988, when the federal death penalty was reintroduced after 16 years during which it was ruled unconstitutional, only 16 federal executions have taken place, all by lethal injection.

The vast majority of them — 13 — took place during a short period in the last year of Donald Trump’s presidency. Dylann Roof, the man who murdered nine worshippers in a Black church in Charleston, South Carolina, is on federal death row now.

The man who opened fire at a synagogue in Poway, California, in 2019, killing one person, was sentenced in federal court in 2021 to life plus 30 years in prison.

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