Federal jury sentences Pittsburgh synagogue shooter to death


A federal jury in Pittsburgh sentenced Robert Bowers to death earlier this month for his October 2018 attack on the Tree of Life synagogue that left 11 congregants dead and six others wounded. The jury had found Bowers guilty in June on 63 counts, including hate crimes resulting in death and obstruction of the free exercise of religion, charges that made him eligible for the death penalty. 

According to the Department of Justice, Bowers had driven to the Tree of Life heavily armed and had “meticulously planned his attack based on his violently antisemitic beliefs, reflected in dozens of online posts admitted into evidence.”

Bowers’ lawyers argued that he had a mental illness and a troubled history. He had offered to plead guilty to the 63 charges he faced in return for being sentenced to life in prison, but DOJ chose to seek the death penalty. It was the first federal death sentence rendered since 2019. (He will be formally sentenced by the trial judge on Thursday.)

“The verdict, though, cannot bring back the 11 people killed at the Tree of Life Synagogue. Nor can it heal the physical and psychological wounds of the survivors or dispel the hurt and fear of community members.” Assistant Attorney General Kristen Clarke of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division said in a written statement. 

This leads one to wonder why, then, DOJ insisted on seeking death in this case. If killing Robert Bowers “cannot bring back the 11 people killed” nor “heal the physical and psychological wounds of the survivors,” why not settle for life in prison? 

Last month, Patrick Crusius, who pleaded guilty in February to killing 23 people and injuring 22 others at an El Paso Walmart store in 2019, was sentenced to 90 consecutive life terms, DOJ reported. He was charged with 90 federal counts, including 45 hate crimes. And yet, the DOJ accepted his plea deal. Why?

Clearly, DOJ has no coherent policy on when to seek death and when to settle for life sentences. Attorney General Merrick Garland’s moratorium on federal executions, announced in 2021, did not include banning prosecutors from seeking death sentences. 

It’s been clear for a long time that the death penalty is unfair, racist, and barbaric. The DOJ’s actions since President Biden took office have only served to emphasize how broken the system is. 

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