Pittsburgh synagogue shooter pleads not guilty to upgraded charges

Pittsburgh synagogue shooter pleads not guilty to upgraded charges

Truck driver Robert Bowers accused of killing 11 Jewish worshipers at Tree of Life faces 63 counts of federal hate crimes, some of which carry the death penalty

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)

PITTSBURGH (AP) — The suspect in the Pittsburgh synagogue massacre pleaded not guilty Monday to a new indictment that added 19 additional counts, but his lawyer expressed hope the case will be resolved without a trial.

Robert Bowers, a truck driver who US authorities say gunned down 11 people at Tree of Life Synagogue, appeared in federal court with his new lawyer, prominent death penalty litigator Judy Clarke, who signaled that Bowers might be open to some sort of plea. Clarke’s past clients have included one of the Boston Marathon bombers, a 9/11 conspirator and Unabomber Ted Kaczynski.

Bowers, who was shackled, said little, giving yes or no answers.

A grand jury on January 29 added 19 counts to the 44 that Bowers was already facing. The additional charges include hate crimes violations, obstruction of religious belief and the use of a firearm during crimes of violence.

First responders surround the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh, Pa., where a shooter opened fire Saturday, Oct. 27, 2018. (AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar)

Bowers, 46, of Baldwin, Pennsylvania, is accused of targeting worshipers from three Jewish congregations when he attacked on Saturday, October 27, while Sabbath services were being held.

Seven people were wounded, including five police officers.

A motorcade of official vehicles arrives at a US federal court where Tree of Life synagogue shooter Robert Bowers was to be arraigned on additional charges, February 11, 2019, in Pittsburgh. (AP Photo/Keith Srakocic)

Investigators say Bowers posted criticism of a Jewish charity on social media before the attack, claiming the immigrant aid society “likes to bring invaders that kill our people.” Authorities said he told investigators that “all these Jews need to die.”

Bowers has been jailed in the Butler County Prison, about 35 miles (55 kilometers) north of the shooting scene. If convicted of the most serious offenses, he could be sentenced to life without parole.

A Pittsburgh Police officer walks past the Tree of Life Synagogue and a memorial of flowers and stars in Pittsburgh on October 28, 2018. (AP/Gene J. Puskar)

A spokeswoman for federal prosecutors in Pittsburgh said a decision about whether to pursue the death penalty against Bowers remains under review.

Donna Coufal, a member of the Dor Hadash congregation that occupies space at Tree of Life, said she attended Monday’s arraignment “to bear witness. It’s been a painful time, but we remain strong as a community.”

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