A federal jury decided Monday that Robert Bowers, the convicted gunman who killed 11 worshipers at the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh in October 2018, will receive the death penalty.
Bowers learned his punishment after the same Pennsylvania jurors convicted him in mid-June of all 63 criminal counts facing him, including hate crimes resulting in death and obstruction of the free exercise of religion resulting in death. The jurors had started deliberating Tuesday morning.
In closing arguments during the sentencing phase of his trial, U.S. Attorney Eric Olshan argued that Bowers defiled a place of worship when he entered the Tree of Life synagogue on Oct. 27, 2018, and opened fire with an AR-15 rifle, shooting everyone he could find in a mass murder clearly motivated by religious hatred
“Do not be numb to it. Remember what it means. This defendant targeted people solely because of the faith that they chose,” Olshan said.
Bowers’ lead defense attorney, Judy Clarke, meanwhile, acknowledged the horror of his crimes but urged jurors to opt for mercy and a life sentence.
Bowers’ attorneys have argued that he has schizophrenia, a serious brain disorder whose symptoms include delusions and hallucinations, and that Bowers attacked the synagogue out of a delusional belief that Jews were helping to bring about a genocide of white people by coming to the aid of refugees and immigrants. On Monday, Clarke recounted Bowers’ history of psychiatric hospitalizations, including an extended stay in a residential juvenile mental health program.
“What has happened cannot be undone. We can’t rewind the clock and make it that this senseless crime never happened. All we can do is make the right decision going forward. We are asking you to make the right decision, and that is life,” Clarke said in her closing argument, according to The Associated Press.
The jurors began deliberating Tuesday around 9:30 a.m. and returned shortly after that time to the courtroom to further analyze guns that were used in the attack.
In order to impose death, jurors must find that aggravating circumstances, which make the crime especially heinous, outweigh mitigating factors that could be seen as diminishing his culpability. Those aggravating circumstances could include the vulnerability of Bowers’ elderly and disabled victims and his targeting of Jewish people.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
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