(The Hill) — A jury on Wednesday recommended the death penalty for the man who killed 11 worshippers at a Pittsburgh synagogue in the deadliest antisemitic attack in U.S. history.
Robert Bowers was convicted in June for carrying out the attack after he opened fire in the Tree of Life synagogue on Oct. 27, 2018, and killed members of three congregations who were at the synagogue for Sabbath worship and study. Two other worshippers and five police officers were also injured.
Police shot Bowers, who was armed with an AR-15 rifle and other firearms, multiple times before he surrendered.
A jury found Bowers guilty of all 63 felony charges, including federal hate crime charges. Twenty-two of the charges can carry the death penalty, including 11 counts of obstructing free exercise of religious beliefs resulting in death and 11 counts of hate crimes resulting in death.
Bowers’ defense has not claimed the 50-year-old truck driver is innocent but has tried to convince the jury against the death penalty. Bowers’s lawyers argued that his actions were not to prevent worship — a central element for the hate crime charges — and he therefore should not receive the death penalty. The defense also referenced diagnoses of severe mental and physical illnesses, including schizophrenia and epilepsy, as well as what it described as his difficult childhood.
The defense claimed Bowers had a delusional belief that Jewish people were participating in the genocide of white people. Arguing that Bowers did not set out to kill Jews specifically, his lawyers also attempted to have the religious parts of the hate crime charges removed but were not successful.
Bowers’s defense offered a guilty plea in exchange for life in prison, but federal prosecutors opted for the trial, which began in April.
In closing arguments Monday, prosecutors advocated for the death penalty and claimed it is clear Bowers was motivated by religious hatred. Police testimony said Bowers told arresting officers that he wanted to “kill all Jews.” Prosecutors pointed to the defendant’s past antisemitic posts online and that he has since expressed pride in the mass shooting.
His lead attorney, Judy Clarke, is known for her efforts against the death penalty for mass shooters and terrorists. She defended the surviving Boston Marathon bomber, who was sentenced to death, though his case is being appealed. She also defended Unabomber Ted Kaczynski and Arizona shooter Jared Lee Loughner, who both avoided the death penalty.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.