Judge: Tree of Life synagogue massacre suspect can face death penalty

A makeshift memorial stands outside the Tree of Life Synagogue in the aftermath of a deadly shooting in Pittsburgh, October 29, 2018. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke, File)
A makeshift memorial stands outside the Tree of Life Synagogue in the aftermath of a deadly shooting in Pittsburgh, October 29, 2018. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke, File)

The man charged in the deadliest attack on Jewish people in the US has lost another bid to get the death penalty removed as a possible punishment.

With jury selection underway at the federal trial of Robert Bowers, a judge ruled against a defense motion that challenged the government’s pursuit of the death penalty.

US District Judge Robert Colville says in his decision that Bowers’ defense team “fails entirely to establish a basis upon which the court could conclude that the government has arbitrarily sought the death penalty in this case.”

Bowers, of the Pittsburgh suburb of Baldwin, is charged with 63 criminal counts in the killings of 11 worshippers on Oct. 27, 2018, at the Tree of Life synagogue building where three congregations had gathered. The charges include 11 counts of obstruction of free exercise of religion resulting in death and 11 counts of hate crimes resulting in death.

Prosecutors say Bowers made antisemitic comments at the scene of the attacks and in earlier online forums.

More than 100 potential jurors have been questioned by prosecutors and the defense through the first seven days of jury selection, with a heavy focus on their views on a potential death sentence.

Bowers’ attorneys already offered a guilty plea in return for a life sentence without parole, but prosecutors refused and are seeking the death penalty, a move most of the victims’ families support. Most of the juror questioning by Bowers’ attorneys has focused on jurors’ views on the death penalty.

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