The jurors’ names in the synagogue shooter trial that concluded last week will not be released.
The judge in the case, Robert Colville, noted on Tuesday that he had decided in June in a sealed order to keep the names permanently sealed to shield the jury from “improperly motivated members of the public.”
Colville ordered Tuesday that the June ruling and court entry from May supporting his decision be unsealed.
After two months of testimony, the jury of seven women and five men last week imposed the death penalty on Robert Bowers for the 2018 massacre at the Tree of Life synagogue building. Colville on Thursday sentenced Bowers to death.
He is the first defendant in the history of the Western District of Pennsylvania to be on federal death row.
In his June ruling, the judge said that it is in the best interests of justice that the names remain permanently sealed.
In the sealed May document, he outlined his reasons for sealing the names at least until the trial ended, which the defense requested. The government did not object.
He said that the need for juror impartiality in a capital case is of “paramount importance” and noted that the parties had told potential jurors repeatedly that their privacy would be protected.
He also said that in a case such as this one, in which the shooter killed 11 worshippers because of a hatred of Jews, there is a “genuine risk of jurors receiving harassing or threatening communications from improperly motivated members of the public.”
He said the case involves white supremacy and antisemitism that “might invite untoward juror contact,” especially given the prevalence of social media.
Juror names are usually public. But Colville said the nature of the case is such that the “presumption of openness is overcome.”
Prosecutors had noted that during jury selection, one potential juror had expressed fears about the case, saying that “people who tend to commit these types of crimes in this type of violence tend to have friends.”
Colville said that just because only one juror expressed that viewpoint doesn’t mean others don’t share those fears. That one comment alone, he said, is enough to seal the names at least until the end of the trial.
He later made that seal permanent.
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.