White supremacist Robert Bowers has been convicted of dozens of hate crimes and other charges related to the Tree of Life Synagogue massacre in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, The Associated Press reported. It was the deadliest attack on the Jewish community in the United States.
Such convictions could result in his death during the punishment phase of his trial.
Armed with three Glock handguns and a Colt AR-15 rifle, Bowers entered the synagogue on October 27, 2018 and shot and killed 11 Jewish worshipers: David Rosenthal, 54; Cecil Rosenthal, 59; Richard Gottfried, 65; Jerry Rabinowitz, 66; Irving Younger, 69; Daniel Stein, 71; Joyce Fienberg, 75; Melvin Wax, 88; Berenice Simon, 84; Sylvain Simon, 86; and Rose Mallinger, 97.
Two worshipers were seriously injured and 12 escaped unharmed, prosecutors said.
Bowers was reportedly motivated by conspiracy theories about HIAS, a Jewish charity group that resettles refugees and was formerly known as the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society. Witnesses reported hearing the gunman shout, “All Jews must die.” The attack came amid a wave of anti-immigrant paranoia during a heated political season dominated by coverage and talk of a “migrant caravan” at the US-Mexico border.
The AP reported that Bowers’ attorney Elisa Long cited her client’s “absurd and irrational” views in her defense. The newswire reported that an element of his crimes forced prosecutors to prove Bowers tried to stop people from praying.
She claimed his real goal was to end their support for immigrants and refugees, whom he viewed as invaders, according to the AP.
Prosecutor Mary Hahn reportedly focused on hating Bowers rather than his paranoia.
“It’s filled with hatred for Jews,” Hahn reportedly said, pointing to his history of posting white supremacist content online on forums such as Gab, a right-wing social media site. “That’s what prompted him to act.”
His co-lawyer, U.S. Attorney Eric Olshan, reportedly noted that Bowers’ targets were not HIAS volunteers, but praying Jews.
“These are not people who engage in refugee assistance,” Olshan said, according to the AP. “These are people who practice their faith. And he kept hunting, looking for Jews to kill.
Bowers’ replacement indictment included 63 counts, including 11 hate crime counts resulting in death.
The Justice Department will seek his death in a separate punishment phase of his trial.
This is a developing story.
Ronn Blitzer contributed to this report.
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