Pittsburgh synagogue attacker found guilty of hate crimes

AFP / Jeff Swensen

A jury on Friday found Robert Bowers guilty of dozens of federal hate crimes for killing 11 worshippers at Pittsburgh's Tree of Life synagogue in 2018, the deadliest antisemitic attack in US history.

Bowers, 50, now faces the penalty phase of his trial at the US District Court in Pittsburgh, in which the 12 jurors must weigh whether he deserves the death sentence.

Federal prosecutors charged Bowers with 63 counts, including 11 counts of obstruction of free exercise of religious beliefs resulting in death.

The jury found him guilty on all counts in what was a foregone conclusion after defence lawyers did not dispute that he planned and carried out the attack. Instead, Bowers' attorneys are focused on avoiding a death sentence in the trial's next phase, scheduled to begin on June 26.

During the trial, which began on May 30, jurors heard testimony from some of the survivors of the attack and evidence of Bowers' antisemitism, including multiple posts attacking Jews made on a far-right website in the months leading up to the attack.

In a statement, Jeffrey Myers, the Tree of Life synagogue's rabbi who survived the attack, thanked God, law enforcement and prosecutors.

"Today, I'm focused on being with my congregation and praying, singing and clapping in praise of God as we do each Shabbat," he said. "In the face of the horror our community has experienced, I can think of no better response than practising my Jewish faith and leading worship."

In the sentencing phase, prosecutors will try to show that aggravating factors were involved, making a case that Bowers carefully planned the attack and that he targeted vulnerable victims. Most of the victims were elderly.

Defence lawyers for Bowers have argued that a death sentence would violate the Constitution on the grounds that he suffers from major mental illness, including schizophrenia.

All 12 jurors must vote unanimously to sentence Bowers to death. Otherwise, he will face life in prison.

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