Judge rejects defense request to exhume Pittsburgh synagogue shooter’s father

Lawyers for Robert Bowers sought to disinter body for DNA test, after prosecutors questioned family history of schizophrenia

FILE - This undated Pennsylvania Department of Transportation photo shows Robert Bowers. (Pennsylvania Department of Transportation via AP, File)
FILE - This undated Pennsylvania Department of Transportation photo shows Robert Bowers. (Pennsylvania Department of Transportation via AP, File)

PITTSBURGH — A federal judge Wednesday rejected a request by lawyers for the Pittsburgh synagogue gunman to exhume the body of the defendant’s father to prove paternity.

Robert Bowers’ lawyers had wanted the body disinterred for a DNA test after prosecutors raised questions about paternity during Bowers’ trial for the 2018 massacre at the Tree of Life synagogue. Bowers, a 50-year-old truck driver from suburban Baldwin, faces a possible death sentence after being convicted in June of killing 11 people who had gathered for Sabbath worship and study.

Trying to persuade jurors to spare his life, the defense said Bowers has a family history of mental illness and has introduced evidence that his father, Randall Bowers, was diagnosed with schizophrenia. The defense asserts that Robert Bowers also has schizophrenia and opened fire at the synagogue out of a delusional belief that Jews were helping to commit genocide against white people.

Randall Bowers died by suicide in 1979 on the eve of his own rape trial. At trial last week, prosecutors sought to cast doubt on whether he was Robert Bowers’ biological father. The defense asked the judge on Tuesday to clear up the matter by ordering the exhumation of Randall Bowers’ body.

US District Judge Robert Colville agreed with prosecutors that the defense waited too long to make its motion for exhumation, noting Bowers’ own mother questioned whether Randall Bowers was the biological father when a defense expert spoke to her in November 2022. The defense should have anticipated that federal prosecutors would seek to rebut paternity, Colville said in the ruling. The judge also said he probably lacks legal authority to order a disinterment.

Mental health experts hired by the defense told jurors that they diagnosed Robert Bowers with schizophrenia, a serious brain disorder whose symptoms include delusions and hallucinations. A neurologist testifying for the prosecution disputed that Bowers has schizophrenia and said mental illness did not appear to play a role in the attack.

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