An antisemitic truck driver who had voiced hatred for Jews was found guilty on Friday of breaking into a Pittsburgh synagogue and shooting anybody he could find, murdering 11 worshippers in a hate crime for which he faces the death penalty.
After Robert Bowers’ own attorneys admitted at the beginning of the trial that he attacked and slaughtered congregants at the Tree of Life synagogue on October 27, 2018, in the worst attack on Jews in American history, the guilty finding was inevitable.
The federal trial has now entered the penalty phase, which is anticipated to last several weeks, and jurors must now determine whether the 50-year-old should be put on death row or given a life sentence without the possibility of parole.
All 63 charges against Bowers were found to be true, including the death penalty for hate crimes and obstruction of the free practice of religion.
His defenders had proposed a guilty plea in exchange for a life sentence, but the prosecution declined, choosing to go to trial and seek the death penalty instead.
The majority of the victims’ relatives endorsed the choice. Before rendering a decision, the jury debated for nearly five hours across two days. As has frequently been the case during the trial, Bowers, who was dressed in a black sweatshirt, showed little expression.
A prosecutor told jurors on Thursday that Bowers transformed a revered place of worship into a “hunting ground,” choosing his victims based on their faith. Prosecutor Mary Hahn implored the jury to “hold this defendant accountable… and hold him accountable for those who cannot testify” as she read the names of each of the 11 people he killed.
Bowers shot and injured seven more people while carrying an AR-15 rifle and other weapons, five of whom were responding police officers.
Evidence of his deep-seated hatred for Jews and immigrants was revealed by the prosecution. Over the course of 11 days of testimony, jurors found that Bowers had shared or liked a lot of stuff on the far-right social media site Gab that was antisemitic and white nationalist, and that he had celebrated Hitler and the Holocaust.
Bowers reportedly told police that “all these Jews need to die,” according to Hahn.
One survivor described being wounded in the arm before realizing her 97-year-old mother had been shot and murdered next to her during her testimony on the anguish she felt that day.
After touching her mother’s dead corpse and calling out “Mommy,” Andrea Wedner, the trial’s final witness, told the jury that SWAT officers brought her to safety.
Bowers’ counsel made it clear they would concentrate their efforts on trying to preserve his life by choosing not to provide a defense during the trial’s guilt phase.
They intend to present proof that Bowers suffers from epilepsy, schizophrenia, and other neurological disorders.
Judy Clarke, the defense attorney, had also attempted to cast doubt on Bowers’ motivation, insinuating to the jury that his rampage was not driven by religious hate but rather by his hallucinatory conviction that Jews were committing genocide by aiding refugees in settling in the United States.