Federal prosecutors on Monday stated their intent to seek the death penalty against Robert Bowers, the man responsible for the Tree of Life Synagogue shooting in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, last October. The death sentence, in particular is being sought for the crimes of obstruction of free exercise of religion resulting in death, use and discharge of a firearm to commit murder and possession of a firearm in furtherance of a crime of violence.
Bowers entered the Tree of Life synagogue during morning services on October 27 carrying multiple firearms. He opened fire on the congregation, which included members of the Tree of Life, Dor Hadash and New Light congregations. He made statements, while inside the synagogue, that he wanted to “kill Jews.” Bowers was previously indicted by a grand jury and pleaded not guilty to the charges.
Bowers had previously made statements on the website gab.com that were against a Jewish immigration advocacy agency, HIAS, and Jews generally. Prosecutors allege that Bowers “targeted men and women participating in Jewish religious worship at the Tree of Life Synagogue, located in the Squirrel Hill neighborhood of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, which is home to one of the largest and oldest urban Jewish populations in the United States, in order to maximize the devastation, amplify the harm of his crimes, and instill fear within the local, national and international Jewish communities.”
This attack has “been called the deadliest anti-Semitic attack in United States history.”
Monday’s announcement comes after US Attorney General William Barr directed that the US resume capital punishment after nearly two decades.
Some of the congregations who lost members in the shooting have sent a letter to Barr asking that he not seek the death penalty in this case. Rabbi Jonathan Perlman of New Light Congregation in particular requested that the shooter have to meditate on his crime and “live with it forever” and reminded Barr that “both our religious traditions, yours Catholic and mine Jewish, vigorously oppose the death penalty.”