A federal jury in the US has sentenced Pittsburgh synagogue mass shooter Robert Bowers to death.
All 12 jurors on Wednesday, August 2 had to agree on his conviction to impose the death penalty and if they had failed to agree, Bowers would have been sentenced to life in prison.
Bowers shot and killed 11 worshippers, including a 97-year-old woman, at the Tree of Life synagogue on October 27, 2018, in the deadliest antisemitic attack in American history.
The family of 97-year-old victim Rose Mallinger said in a statement, “Although we will never attain closure from the loss of our beloved Rose Mallinger, we now feel a measure of justice has been served.”
“Returning a sentence of death is not a decision that comes easy, but we must hold accountable those who wish to commit such terrible acts of antisemitism, hate, and violence,” the family said. “May we always remember those who were taken too soon — Joyce Fienberg, Richard Gottfried, Jerry Rabinowitz, Cecil and David Rosenthal, Daniel Stein, Bernice and Sylvan Simon, Irving Younger, Melvin Wax, and Rose Mallinger. May their memories be for a blessing.”
Rabbi Jeffrey Myers, who survived the massacre, said in a statement, “In the years we have spent waiting for this trial to take place, many of us have been stuck in neutral. It was a challenge to move forward with the looming specter of a murder trial.”
“Now that the trial is nearly over and the jury has recommended a death sentence, it is my hope that we can begin to heal and move forward,” Myers said. “I have my faith, bolstered by the embrace and respect with which my community has been treated by our government and our fellow citizens. For this and the seriousness with which the jury took its duty, I remain forever grateful.”
Bowers had offered to plead guilty if the death penalty was taken off the table, but prosecutors turned him down.
Bowers “killed half of the people in that building. He murdered them because they were Jewish,” Eric Olshan, U.S. attorney for the Western District of Pennsylvania, said at a news conference Wednesday after the verdict.
“He also shot two other congregants and he tried to kill every other person in that building,” including the first responders, Olshan said. Four police officers were shot and injured in the attack.
He was convicted in June on all 63 charges against him, including 11 counts of hate crimes resulting in death.
“Nothing has been the same” since that day, Olshan said. “Not for the families who lost beloved family members and not for those who survived but bare the scars, physical and emotional.”
Photo of the victims
Bowers “acted because of white supremacist, antisemitic and bigoted views that unfortunately are not original or unique to him,” Olshan said. “Sadly, they are too common.”
“When people who espouse white supremacist, antisemitic and bigoted views pick up weapons and use them to kill or to try to kill people because of their faith, our office and our partners … will hold them accountable,” he said.
On July 13, the jury decided Bowers and the crime met the criteria to be eligible for the death penalty. That led to the final phase of the trial, which included testimony from victims’ families.
“My world has fallen apart,” Sharyn Stein, wife of 71-year-old victim Daniel Stein, said on the stand, according to Pittsburgh ABC affiliate WTAE. “We were together for 46 years and a part of me is not there now.”
Andrea Wedner, whose mother, Rose Mallinger, was shot dead next to her, testified, “I’m haunted by what happened to me and by what I saw and heard that day.”
“The hardest part for me is knowing what happened to her and how she died,” Wedner said, according to WTAE.
Clinical psychologist, Dr. Katherine Porterfield testified in Bowers’ defense. She said in a report that the gunman “had multiple, severe, chronic traumatic life events and circumstances that put him at risk for serious mental illness,” WTAE reported.
Olshan said in his closing argument that Bowers “has no remorse for what he has done.”
“He is proud — proud of what he did,” Olshan said, according to WTAE.
Bowers will be formally sentenced on Thursday when victims will be offered the chance to provide victim impact statements, Olshan said.