Should He Get the Death Penalty?

Police Vehicle Outside Pittsburgh's Tree of Life Synagogue

( – He’s been found guilty of one of the worst mass shootings in American history. The jury will now decide if he should be put to death.

[After reading the rest of this post adapted from the excellent reporting of the New York Post, share your opinion by emailing [email protected]. Should he be executed?]

The man who violently attacked Jewish congregants at Pittsburgh’s Tree of Life Synagogue in 2018, resulting in 11 deaths, was found guilty on all charges on Friday. This attack is considered one of the deadliest anti-Semitic assaults in American history.

The attacker, Robert G. Bowers, 50, faced 63 criminal charges, which included hate crimes causing death and preventing the free practice of religion, also leading to death.

After brief deliberations, a jury of seven women and five men delivered the verdict on Friday morning, according to TribLIVE reporter Paula Reed Ward. The decision came shortly after closing arguments were made on Thursday afternoon.

Bowers had previously tried to plead guilty in exchange for a life sentence, but federal prosecutors rejected this. Now, the jury must decide whether he should face the death penalty or life imprisonment without parole. [emphasis added]

In the lead-up to the trial, Bowers’ lawyers disclosed that he had been diagnosed with schizophrenia and had structural and functional brain impairments.

However, prosecutors stated before the trial that Bowers possessed a “deep, murderous hatred towards all Jewish people.” They said this hatred led him to attack the synagogue in Pittsburgh’s Squirrel Hill neighborhood on October 27, 2018, with an AR-15 and three handguns.

The deadly shooting also injured six others when the Tree of Life Synagogue hosted Shabbat services for two other congregations, Dor Hadash and New Light.

The trial was emotional, with prosecutors calling over 60 witnesses to testify. Congregant Andrea Wedner shared her chilling account of how she pretended to be dead while her mother was fatally wounded.

During the trial, Carol Black, a 71-year-old witness, recounted her experience of hiding in a storage room during Bowers’ violent assault. She was there alongside Barry Weber, 81, who described how Bowers had almost discovered them when he peered into their dark hiding place.

Five local police officers were injured in response to the attack. Bowers was eventually shot multiple times before he surrendered.

Before the attack, Bowers frequently shared anti-Semitic and white supremacist content on the social media platform, Gab. Upon arrest, he allegedly told police, “All these Jews need to die.”

Bowers’ lawyers argued throughout the trial that his actions weren’t spurred by religious hatred but by a delusional belief that Jews facilitated genocide by helping migrants enter the US. However, prosecutors disputed this claim, pointing out that he admitted to targeting Jews.

Following closing arguments, the New Light Congregation released a statement condemning Bowers’ indiscriminate violence.

Bowers’ trial now moves into the penalty phase, which is anticipated to last six weeks. His conviction comes amidst rising anti-Semitism in the US. In the nearly five years since the Tree of Life massacre, several other deadly attacks have occurred on synagogues and Jewish communities across the country.