Robert Bowers pleaded not guilty during a preliminary hearing on Thursday to the 44 federal charges he faces for the shooting at the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. The shooting left 11 people dead and six people wounded, including four police officers responding to the scene.
Local coverage reported that Bowers’ federal public defenders announced the plea and noted that a not guilty plea “is typical at this stage of the proceedings.”
Bowers was arraigned following a federal grand jury’s indictment that charged him with Obstruction of Free Exercise of Religious Beliefs Resulting in Death, among other federal crimes, on Wednesday.
The federal prosecutors will seek a death sentence if approved by Attorney General Jeff Sessions, who commented on the events in a statement on Wednesday:
These alleged crimes are incomprehensibly evil and utterly repugnant to the values of this nation. Therefore this case is not only important to the victims and their loved ones, but to the city of Pittsburgh and the entire nation. … The Department of Justice, working with our state and local partners, will bring the full force of the law against anyone who would violate the civil rights of the American people and we are resolutely determined to achieve justice in this case.”
Allegheny County District Attorney Stephen A. Zappala Jr. has also filed charges against Bowers. However, Zappala issued a statement on Tuesday that his office will hold back and allow the case to proceed at the federal level for now.