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Robert Bowers found guilty on all counts in Pittsburgh synagogue shooting trial

Katie Blackley
90.5 WESA

The man accused of fatally shooting 11 Jewish worshipers and wounding several others at the Tree of Life Synagogue in 2018 has been found guilty on all counts by a jury after four weeks of testimony.

Robert Bowers, 50, of Baldwin, was charged with 63 federal counts, including 11 counts of a hate crime that resulted in death.

Jurors began deliberating on the charges at mid-afternoon Thursday and resumed that process Friday morning. They notified U.S. District Judge Robert Colville around 11:20 a.m. Friday that they had reached a verdict, which they began to deliver at 11:55 a.m.

Bowers' sentence will not be determined immediately. He previously attempted to plead guilty to the charges in exchange for a sentence of life in prison, however, prosecutors are seeking the death penalty.

The verdict represents the conclusion of the first phase of Bowers' trial in U.S. District Court. A second will take place to determine whether he will, indeed, receive the death penalty.

The victims killed by Bowers included Joyce Fienberg, Richard Gottfried, Rose Mallinger, Jerry Rabinowitz, brothers Cecil Rosenthal and David Rosenthal, husband and wife Sylvan and Bernice Simon, Daniel Stein, Melvin Wax, and Irving Younger. They belonged to three congregations that worshipped at the Tree of Life synagogue: Congregation Dor Hadash, New Light Congregation and Tree of Life / Or L'Simcha.

The attack, in which six worshipers and police officers also were shot and wounded, is believed to represent the deadliest antisemitic assault in U.S. history.

Throughout the month-long trial, the prosecution included testimony from worshippers, rabbis and religious leaders, and Pittsburgh Police. Many victims recalled harrowing moments of hiding from Bowers — who police confirmed as the gunman in the courtroom.

Prosecution also offered social media posts accessed and posted by Bowers, including many with explicitly anti-Jewish sentiments and slurs. The FBI also confirmed that a white-power gesture was found on Bowers' phone.

The trial was often emotional, with victims having to recall the worst day of their lives, or hear taped 911 calls with their desperate pleas.

“My hope is that today provides some level of comfort and helps to ease the pain, even if ever so slightly,” for survivors and victims’ families, Tree of Life Congregation CEO Carole Zawatsky said Friday after the verdict. “May their memories always be a blessing. Let us, this day, reaffirm our resolve to bring light into our world and keep the memory of each of the victims in our hearts as we do the work of Tikkun HaOlam, repairing our broken world.”

Tree of Life Congregation Rabbit Jeffrey Myers, an attack survivor, said he was “grateful to God for getting us to this day. And I am thankful for the law enforcement who ran into danger to rescue me, and the U.S. Attorney who stood up in court to defend my right to pray.”

In a statement, members of the New Light Congregation noted that only the first phase of the trial has been completed and that the second phase to determine Bowers' sentence lies ahead.

"During this phase, there were no claims of innocence or mistaken identity. Eyewitnesses placed [Bowers] and his weapons in the building. He was indiscriminate in his task, shooting both worshippers and police officers. Survivors were forced to relive the day’s trauma; while family members suffered through testimony recalling the final minutes of their loved ones. He came to kill Jews and, if not for the protective equipment worn by the police, might well have killed them, too.

"There can be no forgiveness. Forgiveness requires two components: that it is offered by the person who commits the wrong and is accepted by the person who was wronged. The shooter has not asked — and the dead cannot accept."

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Oliver Morrison
Julia Zenkevich