Pittsburgh synagogue shooter Robert Bowers will be sentenced to die. 

After deliberating for about 11 hours, a federal court jury imposed the death penalty on the killer for each of the 22 capital offenses he faced.

The jury reached its verdict on day 36 of the trial and nearly five years after the shooter rampaged through the Tree of Life building on Shabbat with an AR-15 and slaughtered 11 members of the Pittsburgh Jewish community in the deadliest antisemitic attack in U.S. history.

The defendant is only the fourth federal defendant in the history of the Western District of Pennsylvania to face the death penalty and the only one sentenced to die. 

U.S. District Judge Robert Colville will formally sentence Bowers on Thursday. 

The jury rejected the 115 mitigating factors the defense team offered as reasons the convicted killer should be sentenced to life in prison rather than death.

For more than a month during the penalty phases of the trial, jurors heard and saw graphic details, including 911 calls and crime scene photos. They also heard from victims and victims’ family members who offered glimpses of how their lives had changed since the mass shooting on Oct. 27, 2018. 

Those testifying included not only Pittsburgh Jewish community members but also first responders injured during gun battles with the convicted killer. 

Dueling doctors also took the stand. Defense expert witnesses claimed the shooter suffered from epilepsy, schizophrenia and various brain injuries. That, combined with an early life of neglect and alleged abuse, they argued, should disqualify him from receiving the death penalty. 

Prosecution expert witnesses argued that there was no proof that the shooter suffered from a mental illness. They said Bowers’ meticulous planning and measured reactions during the shooting proved he understood his actions and grasped their impact. 

The government cited the shooter’s long history of antisemitism, arguing that his belief system was not the result of delusions accompanying mental illness but simply the common hatred found on social media and in public forums.

The government also noted that the defendant had no remorse, something the defense argued he might gain if he were sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole.

In the end, the jury found the prosecution proved that the killer’s crimes satisfied five aggravating factors: that he caused injury, harm and loss to the victims named in each capital count, as well as to the family, friends and co-workers of those victims; that he expressed hatred and contempt toward members of the Jewish faith, and his animus toward members of the Jewish faith played a role in the killings of the victims; that he targeted men and women participating in Jewish religious worship at the Tree of Life synagogue; that he demonstrated a lack of remorse; and that he caused serious physical and emotional injury, including maiming, disfigurement, permanent disability, severe psychological impacts and grievous economic hardships to individuals, including Daniel Leger and Andrea Wedner, both of whom were shot but survived.

Moreover, he otherwise injured those who had to run or hide from the attack, including Carol Black, Doris Dyen, Joseph Charny, Louis Fienberg, Audrey Glickman, Martin Gaynor, Jeffrey Myers, Jonathan Perlman, Deane Root, August Siriano, Judah Samet, Stephen Weiss and Barry Werber. Police officers Anthony Burke, Timothy Matson, Daniel Mead, John Persin and Michael Smidga all suffered physical injuries, the jury found, and he also caused harm to officers John Craig, Jeffrey Garris, Jeremy Hurley, Andrew Miller, Joshua Robey, Michael Saldutte and Clint Thimons.

The jury found the defense proved many mitigating factors, including those related to the shooter’s negative upbringing. But the jury did not find that the defense proved any mitigating factors related to the shooter’s mental health. They rejected unanimously that he had schizophrenia or that he suffered from delusional beliefs. 

Family members and survivors sat in the gallery as the verdict was read. 

Colville displayed the most emotion. He thanked the jury for its service. 

“For your efforts,” he said, “we are all grateful.” 

Colville noted that he has given that same speech to hundreds of juries throughout his career but never before has it had “as much sincerity.” 

Bowers murdered Joyce Fienberg, Richard Gottfried, Rose Mallinger, Jerry Rabinowitz, Cecil and David Rosenthal, Bernice and Sylvan Simon, Daniel Stein, Melvin Wax and Irving Younger. They were members of Congregation Dor Hadash, New Light Congregation and Tree of Life*Or L’Simcha Congregation.  

Family members are expected to deliver victim-impact statements at the sentencing on Thursday. 

This story is part of ongoing coverage of the Pittsburgh synagogue shooting trial by the Pittsburgh Jewish Chronicle and the Pittsburgh Union Progress in a collaboration supported by funding from the Pittsburgh Media Partnership.

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David Rullo
David writes for the Pittsburgh Jewish Chronicle and can be reached at drullo@pittsburghjewishchronicle.org.
Adam Reinherz

Adam writes for the Pittsburgh Jewish Chronicle and can be reached at areinherz@pittsburghjewishchronicle.org.