Pittsburgh synagogue shooter faces death penalty in trial set to start May 30

Robert Bowers accused of killing of 11 worshipers in 2018 attack; some victims’ relatives pushing for execution, but two of three community leaders oppose it

Driver's license photo of Pittsburgh synagogue massacre suspect Robert Bowers (Pennsylvania DOT)
Driver's license photo of Pittsburgh synagogue massacre suspect Robert Bowers (Pennsylvania DOT)

JTA — The trial of the alleged shooter in the Pittsburgh synagogue attack is slated to begin May 30.

Jury selection for the federal trial began last month and is expected to end next week, according to the Pittsburgh Union Progress, a local publication, and the Pittsburgh Jewish Chronicle, which are jointly covering the trial. The defendant, Robert Bowers, is accused of killing 11 worshippers from three congregations who were praying together on Oct. 27. 2018. He faces the death penalty.

Most observers expect the defendant to be convicted, which would result in a third phase of the trial focused on sentencing during which victims’ family members and other community leaders would testify. Some relatives of the massacre’s victims have pushed for Bowers to be executed, while leaders of two of the three congregations have previously advocated against the death penalty.

The start of the trial, more than four years after the attack took place, has surfaced a mix of emotions for residents of Squirrel Hill, the heavily Jewish neighborhood where it occurred. While many hope conviction will bring a sense of closure, there are concerns that the trial will re-traumatize survivors, families of victims, and the broader community. In the lead-up to the trial, Shawn Brokos, director of community security for the Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh, has tracked an “uptick in hate speech” online, according to the Associated Press.

The alleged shooter is just the fourth person in Western Pennsylvania to ever face a federal death penalty. None of the other three were executed.

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