PITTSBURGH – After two months of trial a federal jury in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania unanimously recommended today that a Pennsylvania man be sentenced to death for killing 11 congregants at the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh, critically wounding two others, and injuring five responding police officers in October 2018.
On June 16, after a three weeks of hearing evidence, the jury found Bowers guilty on 63 counts, including hate crimes resulting in death and obstruction of the free exercise of religion resulting in death, that were potentially punishable by a death sentence.
After hearing additional evidence, the jury found on July 13, that Robert Bowers, 50, was eligible to receive a death sentence. During the Sentence Selection phase of the trial, which lasted from July 17 through July 31, 2023, the jury then heard testimony on aggravating and mitigating factors before arriving at its unanimous recommendation of a death sentence.
“The horrific attack at the Tree of Life Synagogue on October 27, 2018, stole the lives of 11 innocent victims, shattered their families, gutted their congregation and the Pittsburgh community, and struck fear in the lives of Jewish people across the country,” said Attorney General Merrick B. Garland. “Hate crimes like this one inflict irreparable pain on individual victims and their loved ones and lead entire communities to question their very belonging. All Americans deserve to live free from the fear of hate-fueled violence and the Justice Department will hold accountable those who perpetrate such acts.”
“The evidence in this trial proved that the defendant acted because of white supremacist, anti-Semitic and bigoted views that unfortunately are not original or unique to him,” said U.S. Attorney Eric Olshan for the Western District of Pennsylvania. “Our Constitution protects a person’s right to hold repugnant beliefs. But our Constitution also protects every person’s right to practice his or her faith. When people who espouse white supremacist, anti-Semitic, and bigoted views pick up weapons and use them to kill or try to kill people because of their faith, our Office and our partners in law enforcement will hold them accountable to the fullest extent of the law. Each and every time.”
“The men and women of the FBI hold the Tree of Life Synagogue victims and the Pittsburgh community in our hearts as we continue to protect communities of faith from violent acts of hate,” said FBI Director Christopher Wray. “The damage caused by antisemitism cannot be understated, just as the tragic loss of the eleven victims cannot be measured. Healing will be a life-long journey for the survivors, families, and communities affected by this vile attack, and the FBI will be there to support them throughout that journey.”
“The massacre at the Tree of Life Synagogue imposed grievous and far-reaching harms and is a reminder about the ongoing threat that we face as a result of antisemitic violence and hatred in our country,” said Assistant Attorney General Kristen Clarke of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division. “The victims of these senseless murders were community and religious leaders and loving family members and friends. A jury of his peers held the defendant accountable for his hateful actions and provided justice for those killed and injured. The verdict, though, cannot bring back the 11 people killed at the Tree of Life Synagogue. Nor can it heal the physical and psychological wounds of the survivors or dispel the hurt and fear of community members. We hope that this civil rights prosecution brings a measure of closure and highlights the determination of the Justice Department to protect people from antisemitic violence and other hate crimes in our country.”
“I hope today’s decision brings some comfort to those impacted by this terrible crime and to our community,” said FBI Pittsburgh Special Agent in Charge Mike Nordwall. “As we all work to heal together, I want to remind the community that none of us can do this alone. I want to commend the work by my FBI personnel, the Assistant U.S. Attorneys, Pittsburgh Bureau of Police and our partner agencies who put in countless hours at the scene that day and every day since preparing for this trial. I want to assure everyone that the FBI will keep doing everything we can for the people who need it most in every community across the country.”
The evidence showed that on Oct. 27, 2018, Bowers drove to the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, where members of the Tree of Life, Dor Hadash and New Light Jewish congregations gathered to engage in religious worship. Bowers entered the building armed with multiple firearms, including three Glock .357 handguns and a Colt AR-15 rifle. While inside the Tree of Life Synagogue, Bowers opened fire, killing and injuring members of the three congregations, as well as injuring multiple responding police officers as they attempted to rescue surviving victims.
The victims include 11 worshippers at the Tree of Life Synagogue who were killed: Joyce Fienberg, 75; Richard Gottfried, 65; Rose Mallinger, 97; Jerry Rabinowitz, 66; Cecil Rosenthal, 59; David Rosenthal, 54; Bernice Simon, 84; Sylvan Simon, 86; Daniel Stein, 71; Melvin Wax, 87; and Irving Younger, 69. In addition, the defendant critically injured two congregants. Another 12 congregants escaped physical injury. Additionally, the victims include five responding police officers who were injured while attempting to rescue surviving victims and apprehend the defendant.
The evidence showed that the defendant meticulously planned his attack based on his violently antisemitic beliefs, reflected in dozens of online posts admitted into evidence.
The court will impose the sentence on Aug. 3.
The Federal Bureau of Investigation, the Pittsburgh Bureau of Police, and the Allegheny County Police conducted the investigation leading to the conviction in this case, with assistance from many other federal, state, and local law enforcement agencies. The case was prosecuted by United States Attorney Eric G. Olshan and Assistant U.S. Attorneys Troy Rivetti, Soo C. Song, and Nicole Vasquez Schmitt of the United States Attorney’s Office for the Western District of Pennsylvania; Trial Attorney Mary J. Hahn of the Civil Rights Division; and Barry K. Disney of the Capital Case Unit of the United States Department of Justice. Special Litigation Counsel Julia Gegenheimer of the Civil Rights Division and Trial Attorney Sonia Jiminez of the Criminal Division also made significant contributions to the prosecution of this case.