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Pittsburgh synagogue shooter found guilty in Tree of Life attack

A 50-year-old truck driver with a history of spewing antisemitic hatred has been found guilty on all counts in the 2018 shooting at a Pittsburgh synagogue that killed 11 worshipers and left seven people wounded. The verdict was expected, as Robert Bowers' attorneys admitted during trial that he was responsible for the massacre.

Jurors returned just before noon on Friday, CBS Pittsburgh reported, after a total of more than five hours of deliberation Thursday and Friday. He was charged with 63 criminal counts, including hate crimes resulting in death, related to the deadliest antisemitic attack in U.S. history.

Next will come the penalty phase of the trial, where the jury will decide if he should receive the death penalty or serve life in prison. CBS Pittsburgh reports that the judge called for a one-week break before the penalty phase begins.

The defense team, rather than trying to get a not guilty verdict during the trial, had instead focused on trying to spare him the death penalty. They offered no defense of their own after the prosecution rested.

On Oct. 27, 2018, the shooter entered the Tree of Life synagogue, which houses three separate congregations, during Saturday morning prayers. Armed with an AR-15 rifle and three handguns, he opened fire shortly before 10 a.m. in Tree of Life, the largest of the three congregations.

He turned the house of worship into a "hunting ground," a federal prosecutor told the jury.

Some of the victims were also members of Dor Hadash and New Light, the other two congregations in the building.

Mourners visit the memorial outside the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh on Oct. 31, 2018, after 11 people were killed in a mass shooting, [JEFF SWENSEN / GETTY IMAGES]

Police said the shooter shouted "All Jews must die!" during the attack.

He was eventually shot multiple times by police and taken into custody.

The criminal complaint alleged that he told a SWAT operator while receiving medical treatment that he believed Jews were "committing genocide to his people." His social media accounts were also filled with antisemitic and white supremacist content.

The victims ranged in age from 54 to 97.

Andrea Wedner, who was wounded in the shooting, told Leslie Stahl on "60 Minutes" that she and her mother, 97-year-old Rose Mallinger, heard the gunman approaching. Wedner said that, after he began shooting, "My mother and I looked at each other, and I said, 'We have to get down.' I said, 'Just get down.' But before we could, we got shot."

Mallinger was killed and Wedner suffered gunshot wounds to her arm.

"I got hit and I looked at my arm and saw that it was blown open," she said. "And I just went down on the floor. I just laid there and played dead."

At trial, Wedner was the government's final witness and recounted seeing her mother get killed. She said at the trial that she was the only survivor of that section of the synagogue, The Associated Press reported.

Defense attorney Elisa Long in her closing argument told the jury, "At the end of the day, there is no making sense of this senseless act," CBS Pittsburgh reported. She argued, however, that the shooter was not trying to stop the congregants from practicing their religion, but was instead hostile toward HIAS, a nonprofit group that helps resettle refugees, and had erroneously linked the organization to the synagogue.

She claimed the shooter carried out the attack because he didn't want more refugees and immigrants to come to the U.S., reasoning that she herself called "nonsensical and irrational," the AP reported.

She said that this line of thinking had "no basis whatsoever in truth or in reality, but they do give us some insight into Mr. Bowers' sense of reality, no matter how distorted it may be."

Prosecutors called that argument "absurd."

"These weren't people engaging in refugee assistance. These were people trying to practice their faith," U.S. Attorney Eric Olshan said in his closing argument.

"Nobody says 'I hate Jews' for no reason. There's always some reason, and for this defendant, there were many reasons. It was a grab bag of many different reasons," Olshan said.

Prosecutor Mary Hahn said the gunman was "filled with hatred for Jews," referencing his past social media posts, in which, according to CBS Pittsburgh, he praised Hitler and used a slur for Jews 87 times.

"That is what propelled him to act," Hahn said, according to AP.


(c) 2023, CBS News


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