Defense attorneys for Robert Bowers admitted today in opening statements at his trial that he shot and killed 11 people at a Pittsburgh synagogue in 2018. But they’re asking the jury to “carefully scrutinize” Bowers’ intentions for committing the mass killing. He has pleaded not guilty to all 63 charges, including hate crimes resulting in death, in connection with the massacre.
Bowers, 50, is accused of murdering worshippers in the Tree of Life synagogue, just moments after he posted on the extremist-friendly social media site Gab. In the days leading up to the attack Bowers used his Gab account to share antisemitic posts and conspiracy theories. He referenced one such conspiracy theory on Oct. 27, 2018, blaming Jewish people for immigration to the U.S., in a Gab post that concluded with “Screw your optics. I’m going in.” Shortly thereafter, he entered the synagogue and opened fire.
In opening remarks on Tuesday, Bowers’ defense team confirmed that he was behind the massacre.
“The loss that occurred is immeasurable, this senseless act,” Bowers’ attorney Judy Clarke told the jury. “The loss and devastation caused by Robert Bowers. There is no disagreement, no dispute and there will be no doubt who shot and killed the 11 congregants and wounded several others.”
But, his attorneys suggested on Tuesday, Bowers’ actions do not amount to a hate crime against Jewish people.
Clarke appeared to preview the defense team’s strategy by challenging some of the charges against Bowers. Rather than face simple murder charges, Bowers faces even more severe charges for deadly hate crimes. Some of those offenses are punishable by death.
“These are federal charges, not straightforward murder charges,” Clarke said, according to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, adding that those charges require additional evidence beyond the fact that Bowers killed 11 people.
Clarke indicated that Bowers’ defense team will argue that Bowers’ motivations do not meet the criteria necessary for a hate crime conviction.
“In response to the question ‘why did you do this,’ Mr. Bowers spewed forth his state of mind, his intent and his motive,” Clarke said, according to the Post-Gazette. “I’m going to show you these statements because they’re going to help you understand his irrational motive and his misguided intent.”
“The victims ranged in age from 54 to 97, and included a pair of brothers and a married octogenarian couple.”
Clarke referenced Bowers’ last Gab post, which accused a Jewish immigration aid group of “bring[ing] in invaders that kill our people.” The attorney questioned whether Bowers’ attack was an act of hate based on religion, or an act based on an anti-immigrant belief, WTAE reported. (The most broadly accepted definitions of antisemitism describe it as not merely religious hatred, but prejudice toward Jewish people, examples of which can include conspiracy theories like Bowers’ posts about immigration.)
The prosecution, for its part, used its opening remarks to argue that Bowers was an explicit antisemite who targeted the synagogue to kill Jewish people.
“The defendant had moved methodically through the synagogue to find the Jews he hated and kill them,” prosecutor Soo Song said in opening arguments.
Bowers drove to the synagogue with an “arsenal” in his car and killed 11 of the 22 people in the building at the time of the attack, prosecutors said. The victims ranged in age from 54 to 97, and included a pair of brothers and a married octogenarian couple. Prosecutors said the victims represented members of three congregations that were using the synagogue that morning, and that Bowers had gone from room to room searching for them. When he was arrested, Song said, Bowers told police that “all Jews need to die” and that Jews are “the children of Satan.”
The prosecution also called its first witness on Tuesday, a 911 operator who fielded a panicked phone call from Bernice Simon, a Tree of Life congregant whose husband had been shot. The operator instructed Simon to stay low and attempt to stop her husband’s bleeding. But the call ended in screams and gunshots as Bowers turned his gun on Simon herself, who died on the scene.
“I was hearing her being shot,” the 911 operator testified in court on Tuesday.
The post Synagogue Shooter’s Lawyers Admit He Killed, But Say It Wasn’t a Hate Crime appeared first on The Daily Beast.