After a two-month-long trial, a federal jury in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, unanimously recommended on Aug. 2 that Robert Bowers, 50, be sentenced to death for killing eleven congregants at the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh, critically wounding two others, and injuring five responding police officers in October 2018.

Thankfully, in my view, Bowers was prosecuted in federal court rather than a Pennsylvania court, as Pennsylvania Governor Josh Shapiro has stated firmly that he won’t allow the state to execute any prisoners while he is governor. He has also called on the state’s legislators to repeal the death penalty. 

I believe heinous murderers should be executed. For example, I consider the murder of a child or a police officer in the line of duty to be heinous. I also consider cold-blooded mass murders, like the one Bowers committed, to be heinous.

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Prior to the murders at the Tree of Life Synagogue, Bowers, a truck driver, was unknown to the police. It was subsequently discovered that Bowers had posted numerous hate messages on social media, including one message that read, “Screw your optics. I’m going in.”

The U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Western District of Pennsylvania announced the death sentence recommendation on Aug. 2. A federal jury on June 16 found Bowers guilty on 63 counts that were potentially punishable by a death sentence, including hate crimes resulting in death and obstruction of the free exercise of religion resulting in death.

According to the U.S. Attorney’s Office, during the Sentence Selection phase of the trial, which lasted from July 17 through July 31, 2023, the jury 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 Oct. 27, 2018, stole the lives of eleven 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 after the death sentence decision. “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 U.S. Attorney for the Western District of Pennsylvania, Eric Olshan, also weighed in. “The evidence in this trial proved that the defendant acted because of white supremacist, antisemitic, and bigoted views that unfortunately are not original or unique to him.

“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, antisemitic, 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.”

When Bowers is finally executed, there will be one less monster on earth.

FBI Director Christopher Wray added, “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. The damage caused by antisemitism cannot be understated, just as the tragic loss of the eleven victims cannot be measured. Healing will be a lifelong journey for the survivors, families, and communities affected by this vile attack, and the FBI will be there to support them throughout that journey.”

According to the Justice Department, 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. Bowers opened fire, killing and injuring members of the three congregations, as well as multiple responding police officers as they attempted to rescue the surviving victims.

The victims include eleven worshipers 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, 88; and Irving Younger, 69. In addition, the defendant critically injured two congregants. Another twelve congregants escaped physical injury. Additionally, the victims include five responding police officers who were injured while attempting to rescue the surviving victims and apprehend the defendant.

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The Justice Department noted that the evidence showed that Bowers meticulously planned his attack based on his violently antisemitic beliefs, which were reflected in dozens of online posts admitted into evidence.

The federal court imposed the sentence on Robert Bowers on Aug. 3. 

But considering that President Biden campaigned on ending the death penalty and Attorney General Garland imposed a moratorium on federal executions in July 2021 while a review of the Justice Department’s policies and procedures is pending, it may be a while before Bowers meets his fate. 

Like Dylann Roof, another mass murderer, Bowers will likely end up on death row in a federal prison for an indeterminate length of time. Roof, who was convicted and sentenced to death for murdering black members of the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in South Carolina, is currently sitting on death row in the Terre Haute Federal Prison in Indiana.

When Bowers is finally executed, there will be one less monster on earth.

Paul Davis, a Philadelphia writer and frequent contributor to Broad + Liberty, also contributes to Counterterrorism magazine and writes the “On Crime” column for the Washington Times.

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