A month ago, Robert G. Bowers was found guilty on 63 charges connected to the 2018 mass shooting at Pittsburgh’s Tree of Life Synagogue, in which 11 people were killed. According to The New York Times, the crimes the 50-year-old has been convicted of committing have now been found by a jury in Pittsburgh to be eligible for the death penalty. The jury will now consider whether Bowers should be sentenced to death or life in prison.
A capital trial of this nature would normally consist of only two segments, beginning with the guilt proceeding and concluding with the determination of a penalty. However, the defense requested that the judge separate the penalty portion into two phases, first to determine eligibility and second to determine which penalty — death or life in prison — is most appropriate. A unanimous vote of the 12 jurors is required to recommend the death penalty.
The two-and-a-half weeks of testimony that preceded the decision Thursday closely examined Bowers’ motivation in killing 11 people and wounding seven more at the Tree of Life Synagogue on Oct. 27, 2018. Officials have deemed it the worst antisemitic attack in American history. During the testimony, mental health experts recalled in-depth interviews with Bowers, who revealed to them details compiled over months and months of planning ahead of the attack.
During the trial, Bowers’ defense attorney, Judy Clarke, focused on his “motive and intent” rather than his guilt in committing the crimes, stating, “There is no disagreement, no dispute, and there will be no doubt who shot and killed the 11 congregants,” but argued that he was not motivated by hatred of Jews. Instead, she proposed that Bowers feared that congregants at the Tree of Life were helping immigrants, whom he believed were a threat.
During opening statements, prosecutor Soo Song said Bowers used multiple weapons during the shooting, including an AR-15 assault rifle. She added that when he was questioned by police after being apprehended, he blurted out, “All Jews need to die.” “Jews are killing our kids.” “Jews are bringing immigrants and killing our people and committing genocide.” And, “Jews are the children of Satan.”
The victims of the shooting ranged in age from 54 to 94. Details about the lives of these individuals, including how their loss has impacted their families and communities, will be presented to the jury in the final phase of the trial. Additional details about Bowers not explored in the eligibility phase will also be discussed.