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Prosecutors to seek death penalty for Poway synagogue shooter

California governor has signed moratorium on executions, but state attorneys will still seek to put John T. Earnest on death row for Passover attack

John T. Earnest appears for his arraignment hearing on April 30, 2019, in San Diego facing charges of murder and attempted murder in the April 27 assault on the Chabad of Poway synagogue, which killed one woman and injured three people. (Nelvin C. Cepeda/San Diego Union-Tribune via AP, Pool)
John T. Earnest appears for his arraignment hearing on April 30, 2019, in San Diego facing charges of murder and attempted murder in the April 27 assault on the Chabad of Poway synagogue, which killed one woman and injured three people. (Nelvin C. Cepeda/San Diego Union-Tribune via AP, Pool)

SAN DIEGO, California — Prosecutors in California plan to seek the death penalty against a former college student accused of carrying out a 2019 attack on a San Diego-area synagogue that left one woman dead and three others wounded.

The San Diego County prosecutors said during a court hearing Thursday that they will ask for the death sentence against John T. Earnest in the April 27, 2019, attack on the Chabad of Poway synagogue.

That’s despite Gov. Gavin Newsom signing an executive order last year placing a moratorium on executions. Even before that, California has not executed anyone since 2006.

Prosecutors say Earnest, a 20-year-old nursing student, opened fire with a semi-automatic rifle during the last day of Passover services. The attack killed 60-year-old Lori Gilbert-Kaye and wounded three others, including an 8-year-old girl and the rabbi, who lost a finger.

A photo of Lori Gilbert-Kaye at the Chabad of Poway, California, May 3, 2019. (Gabrielle Birkner/JTA)

Earnest then reportedly called 911 to say he had shot up a synagogue because Jews were trying to “destroy all white people.”

He is scheduled to go to trial June 2 after pleading not guilty to hate-crime-related murder, attempted murder and other charges.

Earnest also will be tried on an arson charge for a fire at a nearby mosque that happened weeks before the synagogue shooting. Nobody was hurt during the fire.

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