The judge presiding over the Pittsburgh synagogue shooter’s trial has rejected a defense request to exhume the body of the killer’s father, saying the motion is untimely and he doesn’t have authority anyway.
U.S. District Judge Robert Colville sided with the government in denying the request, agreeing with prosecutors that the defense could have raised the issue of paternity much earlier and chose not to.
The judge also said he agrees with prosecutors that federal judges don’t have jurisdiction over exhumations, which are governed by state law.
Robert Bowers’ legal team on Tuesday asked Colville to order the exhumation so they can do DNA testing on the remains to prove that Randall Bowers is Robert’s father.
The lawyers wanted to do that because they are trying to prove that the defendant suffers from schizophrenia, which is their main reason for arguing he should not be executed for killing 11 worshippers at the Tree of Life synagogue building in 2018.
Bowers’ lawyers say Randall Bowers, who killed himself in 1979, suffered from schizophrenia. Since the disease can run in families, the lawyers want to prove paternity in the hopes that the jury will accept their theory that the defendant also is schizophrenic.
Prosecutors said Wednesday that the motion should be denied for three reasons: The issue of paternity is not central to the case; an exhumation will cause more delays and disrupt the trial in a case that has already been delayed repeatedly; and the judge doesn’t have authority to order an exhumation.
The defense said the prosecution had cast doubt on Randall’s paternity during cross-examination of Katherine Porterfield, a defense expert who did a psychological history on Robert Bowers and his family.
On cross-examination, Porterfield said the defendant’s’ mother, Barbara, had indicated that she wasn’t sure if Randall was the father. A neighbor also told Porterfield about doubts that Randall was the father, since Barbara was seeing several men at the time.
Prosecutors said most of the questioning of Porterfield focused on the maternal lineage, not on Randall. They said none of the defense experts who say the defendant is schizophrenic has relied on Randall’s “purported schizophrenia” to reach that conclusion.
Beyond that, the prosecutors said the reason they questioned Porterfield about the paternity was to cast doubt on her as a witness. They said she knew Barbara had questioned Randall’s paternity but didn’t tell the jury about that on direct examination.
That omission, the government said, is “wholly relevant to the jury’s evaluation of Dr. Porterfield’s credibility as an expert and justified the government’s line of cross-examination on this topic.”
The prosecution also said the exhumation request is untimely. In addition to causing a delay, they said, the defense knew as early as November 2022 about Barbara’s doubts regarding paternity and could have taken action then.
Colville agreed, concluding that the defense “simply made a strategic decision in not pursuing” the exhumation earlier.
“Given the late filing and inevitable delay that will result from the relief requested by way of the motion at issue,” he said, “the court hereby denies the motion as untimely.”
Finally, prosecutors said Colville doesn’t have jurisdiction because exhumations are covered by state law. As a federal judge, prosecutors said, Colville doesn’t have the power to grant the defense request.
The judge agreed.
Bowers has been convicted of the killings, and the jury has found him eligible for the death penalty. Both sides are now presenting aggravating and mitigating factors to either send him to the federal death chamber in Indiana or to prison for life.