Pittsburgh synagogue mass shooter will be sentenced to death, jury decides

PITTSBURGH — The gunman who opened fire on a Pittsburgh synagogue, killing 11 and wounding seven others, will be sentenced to death, federal jurors decided Wednesday.

The tragedy, nearly five years ago, was the most heinous antisemitic attack in U.S. history.

For months before the attack, the gunman, Robert Bowers, posted incessantly on social media about his hatred of Jewish people and immigrants. Armed with an AR-15 and other weapons, he then barged into the Tree of Life Congregation in the Squirrel Hill neighborhood of Pittsburgh on Oct. 27, 2018 and surrendered only when he ran out of ammunition.

The jury will now deliver its verdict to U.S. District Court Judge Robert Colville, who is bound to impose the death penalty against the gunman. The judge is expected to deliver the official sentence Thursday morning.

“When a horrendous crime is committed, it deserves the most severe penalty,” Carol Black, whose brother, Richard Gottfried, was killed, said Wednesday after the jury reached its decision.

Jurors had to reach a unanimous decision to impose the death penalty or else the gunman would have received life without the possibility of parole.

Despite the sentence, it could be years before an execution takes places in light of the Department of Justice’s moratorium on capital punishment.

Executions are relatively rare in the federal system. Just 50 have been carried out since 1927, the last one on Jan. 16, 2021, when triple murderer Dustin John Higgs died by lethal injection at U.S. Penitentiary, Terre Haute, a maximum security federal prison in Indiana.

People look at a memorial outside the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh (Gene J. Puskar / AP file)

People look at a memorial outside the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh (Gene J. Puskar / AP file)

Last month, the same jury that recommended Bowers be executed found the shooter guilty on 63 criminal counts stemming from the attack. The panel had also deemed him eligible for the death penalty.

During the lengthy trial, the prosecution heavily referred to the gunman’s long history of antisemitism to prove he had the requisite intent to kill, while the defense unsuccessfully argued mental illness and delusional beliefs caused the massacre.

Family members of the victims also took the stand to give emotional statements on how the gunman’s rampage impacted their lives.

Martin Gaynor survived. He said Wednesday that antisemitism has been on the rise, including the spread of hate on social media and by celebrities and politicians.

“I, all of the survivors, and all of the family members of the victims of the hate-fueled, cruel attack on 10/27/18 know where this leads,” Gaynor said.

“Tolerating, or even worse promoting antisemitism leads down a dark path that descends into hate, violence and destruction. This is not only bad for Jews, it’s bad for our entire country,” he said.

The victims killed in Bower’s attack were Joyce Fienberg, 75; Richard Gottfried, 65; Rose Mallinger, 97; Jerry Rabinowitz, 66; Cecil Rosenthal, 59; David Rosenthal, 54; Bernice Simon, 84; Sylvan Simon, 86; Daniel Stein, 71; Irving Younger, 69; and Melvin Wax, 87.

Carolina Gonzalez and Emily Berk reported from Pittsburgh and David K. Li from New York City.

This article was originally published on NBCNews.com

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