An American truck driver was sentenced to death on Wednesday for the attack on a synagogue five years ago, during which 11 Jewish worshipers were shot dead.
The 12-member jury unanimously ruled that Robert Bowers should be executed for the October 27, 2018, mass shooting in Pittsburgh.
Pres. However, Joe Biden’s Department of Justice has placed a moratorium on federal executions, which means that it is not clear whether the sentence will ever be carried out on Bowers.
The 50-year-old was found guilty in June on all 63 charges brought against him, including hate crimes leading to murder and attempted murder.
RNews previously reported that Bowers had arrived that day with an AR-15 semi-automatic assault rifle and three Glock weapons at the Tree of Life Synagogue in the predominantly Jewish neighborhood of Squirrel Hill in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, about fifteen minutes after the Sabbath service at started at 09:45 (local time), walked in and opened fire on worshippers.
As he opened fire on the worshippers, he shouted, “All Jews must die!”
Bowers was arrested at the scene of the attack, which left several police officers and two additional worshipers with non-fatal injuries.
Bowers did not dispute that he shot the worshippers, but he argued that he was not motivated by a hatred of Jewish people.
His defense team claimed that he suffers from schizophrenia and offered a guilty plea in exchange for a life sentence, which was rejected by the prosecution.
It is considered the deadliest attack on the Jewish community in the history of the United States.
The massacre has heightened fears of a resurgence of far-right extremists and neo-Nazis across America.
“Hate crimes like this cause irreparable pain to individual victims and their loved ones,” Attorney General Merrick Garland said in response to the sentence.
“All Americans deserve not to live in fear of hate violence and the Department of Justice will hold those who commit such acts accountable.”
Donald Trump, the US president at the time, called for Bowers to receive the death penalty, which federal prosecutors formally requested in August 2019.
The verdict handed down on Wednesday is the first time that federal prosecutors have requested and received a death sentence during Biden’s presidency.
However, the federal government has not carried out any executions since Biden took office in January 2021.
Garland imposed a moratorium on executions in July 2021 after the Trump administration oversaw a record 13 executions in recent months.
For Bowers to be executed, the moratorium will have to be lifted or a new president comes to power.
Jewish organizations welcomed the ruling.
Michael Masters, CEO of the Secure Community Network, which provides security advice to American Jewish institutions, said the sentence was “another step on the road to justice”.
It “sends a message to violent extremists, terrorists and anti-Semites that the United States will not tolerate hatred and violence against the Jewish people or people of any faith,” Masters said.
The American Jewish Committee said the victims’ families will always remember that their loved ones were killed by “a cold-blooded hater of Jews”.
“Ultimately, the most important thing is not how the shooter will spend the end of his life, but the fact that the US government has pursued this case with vigor and demonstrated that such crimes will not be ignored, excused or minimized.”
Bowers’ trial began at the end of April amid an increasing number of anti-Semitic incidents in the United States, according to the Anti-Defamation League.
The US-based Jewish group reported a total of 3,697 acts of harassment, vandalism and assault last year. This is an increase of 36% compared to the previous year. It is also the highest since the attacks were reported since 1979.
According to a Pew Research Center study in 2021, the United States is home to approximately six million Jewish people.