PETER SMITH (Associated Press)
PITTSBURGH (TodayNews) — The shooter who carried out the deadliest anti-Semitic attack in U.S. history should be found eligible for the death penalty because he deliberately planned the 2018 Pittsburgh synagogue massacre and preyed on vulnerable victims as they began Sabbath worship, urged jury prosecutor. Wednesday.
“On October 27, 2018, this defendant violated the safe holy sanctuary that was the Tree of Life synagogue. He turned it into a killing ground,” prosecutor Soo Song told jurors at the sentencing stage of Robert Bowers, who was convicted last month of an assault that claimed 11 lives.
But Bowers’ lawyer, Michael Burt, cited expert witnesses to support the claim that “a delusional belief system had taken over his thinking,” leaving him unable to do anything but “follow the dictates” of those delusional thoughts.
The jury sat for about an hour Wednesday afternoon and will resume Thursday morning. They will decide whether Bowers is eligible for the death penalty, a preliminary stage in a sentencing process now in its third week.
If he decides Bowers is eligible, the jury will hear evidence in the coming weeks before deciding whether to impose the death penalty. If that determines he is ineligible, Bowers will receive a life sentence without parole, Judge Robert Colville said during a juror briefing Wednesday morning.
To reach the admissibility threshold, the jury must find that Bowers formed intent to kill and that there was at least one aggravating factor that made the crime particularly heinous.
Bert acknowledged some aggravating circumstances on Wednesday: Bowers posed a serious death threat in the attack and that several of the victims were vulnerable due to age or mental retardation.
But he also claimed that Bowers’ ability to form intent was impaired by schizophrenia, epilepsy, and the delusional belief that he could stop the genocide of white people by killing Jews who helped immigrants.
According to Burt, even years after the attack, Bowers was “still spewing this bullshit content” to mental health analysts and anyone who was willing to listen. Even while in custody, facing capital murder charges, “he can’t help the illusions he has about invading the country, that he’s a soldier in a war.”
Song condemned the idea that Bowers had no control over his actions. She noted that Bowers told one of the defense’s own expert medical witnesses that he carefully planned the attack, considered other potential Jewish targets, and “regrets that he didn’t kill dozens more.” Song said that Bowers described himself as calm and focused when shooting to kill.
Even if Bowers had schizophrenia or epilepsy, “it would not mean that the defendant was incapable of forming an intent to kill,” Song said.
U.S. Attorney Eric Olshan added that Bowers was not running a delirium.
“He just believes in disgusting things,” Olshan said.
Each side has spent a lot of time trying to undermine the credibility of the other side’s expert witnesses.
Bowers, 50, a truck driver from suburban Baldwin, was convicted last month on 63 counts. These include 11 counts of obstructing the free practice of religion resulting in death, and using a firearm to commit murder, charges that can carry the death penalty.
His lawyers offered to plead guilty in exchange for a life sentence, but prosecutors refused, opting instead to take the case to court and seek the death penalty. Most of the families of the victims supported this decision.
The Associated Press’s religious coverage gets its boost from AP’s collaboration with The Conversation US, funded by Lilly Endowment Inc. AP is solely responsible for this content.