Robert Bowers, the gunman responsible for the deadly 2018 attack on a Pittsburgh synagogue, has been unanimously sentenced to death by a federal jury.
The verdict marks the first federal death penalty imposed under the Biden administration, which had previously placed a moratorium on executions.
The jury’s decision to sentence Bowers to death had to be unanimous; otherwise, he would have received life in prison without parole. Jurors spent over 10 hours deliberating before reaching their verdict. The sentencing comes after Bowers was convicted on all 63 counts against him, including hate crime charges, following a lengthy trial.
US Attorney Eric Olshan, in his closing arguments, said, “He turned an ordinary Jewish Sabbath into the worst antisemitic mass shooting in US history, and he is proud of it.”
The same sentiment was echoed by prosecutors who stressed Bowers’ lack of remorse for his actions and his deep-seated hatred towards Jewish people.
Bowers’ defence team had focused on his difficult childhood and mental health issues, including a delusional belief system and diagnoses of schizophrenia and epilepsy. However, the jury unanimously rejected the defence’s mental health arguments, finding that Bowers carried out the killings driven by his hatred towards Jewish people.
“It’s a witness to the horror of the day,” testified Rabbi Jeffrey Myers of the Tree of Life congregation, who survived the attack, speaking about a prayer book with a bullet hole, entered as evidence during the trial. “One day when I’m not there, this book tells a story that needs to be told.”
The formal sentencing is set to take place on Thursday, where some of the victims’ families are expected to speak. Andrea Wedner, daughter of one of the victims, Rose Mallinger, expressed gratitude for the jury’s verdict, saying, “This sentence is a testament to our justice system and a message to all that this type of heinous act will not be tolerated.”
The trial’s conclusion also brings attention to the broader issue of gun violence and the need for sensible gun laws. A gun safety advocacy group, Squirrel Hill Stands Against Gun Violence, founded by members of Dor Hadash after the shooting, called out political leaders who resist enacting common-sense gun regulations.