2018 Pittsburgh synagogue attacker faces death penalty if convicted

A criminal procedure dealing with the conviction of the 2018 Pittsburgh synagogue attacker has opened amid a rising number of antisemitic incidents in the United States. The trial is likely to last until July.

The Tree of Life Synagogue attack in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, on October 27, 2018, was the deadliest antisemitic attack in US history. The perpetrator, Robert Bowers, 50, faces the death penalty if convicted, reports the France24.

The former truck driver was armed with an AR-15 semi-automatic assault rifle and three Glock handguns. A federal prosecutor told the court that Bowers opened fire in the synagogue during Shabbat services, „methodically” tracking down his victims and shooting many of them multiple times and at close range.

„Once he entered the synagogue, the defendant began to hunt; he moved from room to room, upstairs and downstairs… looking for Jewish worshippers to kill,” said prosecutor Soo Song.

Members of three congregations in the synagogue were killed, while two additional worshippers and several police officers were wounded.

Bowers was arrested at the scene and was later charged with 63 counts, including hate crimes resulting in murder and attempted murder. He reportedly yelled, „All Jews must die!” during the rampage and had expressed strong antisemitic views online ahead of the attack.

Federal prosecutors formally requested the death penalty for Bowers in August 2019, upon the request of the then-US president, Donald Trump. However, no federal executions have occurred since President Joe Biden came to power in January 2021.

Bowers’ defence team has been arguing that the defendant has schizophrenia. They offered a guilty plea in exchange for life in prison, which was rejected by the prosecution.

Proceedings opened amid a rising number of antisemitic incidents in the United States, with the jury selection in late April 2023, which was finalised last week. The trial is likely to last until July.


Photo credit: Jim Busis