NATIONAL NEWS

Jurors weighing fate of Pittsburgh synagogue killer hear of the devastation he left behind

Jul 17, 2023, 12:09 PM

A Star of David hangs from a fence outside the dormant landmark Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburg...

A Star of David hangs from a fence outside the dormant landmark Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh's Squirrel Hill neighborhood on Thursday, July 13, 2023, the day a federal jury announced they had found Robert Bowers, who in 2018 killed 11 people at the synagogue, eligible for the death penalty. (AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar)
Credit: ASSOCIATED PRESS

(AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar)

PITTSBURGH (AP) — The gunman who killed 11 worshippers at a Pittsburgh synagogue targeted them because of their faith and has never once expressed remorse, a federal prosecutor said Monday in asking jurors to impose a death sentence. The defense argued that life in prison is sufficient punishment for the nation’s deadliest antisemitic attack.

Opening statements Monday in the sentencing phase of Robert Bowers’ federal trial painted dueling portraits of the man who opened fire during religious services in the heart of Pittsburgh’s Jewish community: That of an unrepentant killer motivated by his hated of Jews, and of a psychologically damaged loner with a terrible childhood who fell under the influence of online extremists.

Bowers, 50, a truck driver from suburban Baldwin, killed members of three congregations who had gathered at the Tree of Life synagogue on Oct. 27, 2018. He also wounded two worshippers and five police officers.

After returning a conviction on all 63 counts he faced, jurors subsequently determined Bowers’ crimes are eligible for capital punishment, moving the trial into its final stretch — a decision on his sentence.

Prosecutors began presenting victim impact testimony to bolster their case for death. Survivor Carol Black, who testified earlier in the trial, returned to the witness stand Monday to tell jurors about her beloved brother, 65-year-old Richard Gottfried, a dentist who was shot and killed.

Gottfried was “warm and loving” and a “good friend,” Black recalled. The siblings were close, attending University of Pittsburgh football games together for decades. He was active at the synagogue and would often lead the family in prayer during religious holidays, Black said.

“It’s just such a huge void in our family, for him not to be here,” she said.

Gottfriend’s wife, Margaret “Peg” Durachko, testified about how they offered free dental care to those in need, and about how their Jewish and Roman Catholic faith traditions meshed.

The couple had expected to have 30 more years together, she said.

“My whole world was turned upside down” by his killing, she said. “He was my whole family because we never had children. It was wiped out in a second.”

Earlier Monday, during opening statements, prosecutors reminded the jury about Bowers’ history of spewing antisemitic hatred online. Since then, the killer has boasted about what he did and told psychologists that he wishes he had killed more, said Assistant U.S. Attorney Nicole Vasquez Schmitt.

“He hated Jews and wanted to kill as many as he could,” she said.

Naming each of the 11 deceased victims as their photos were displayed on a screen, the prosecutor said Bowers had inflicted immeasurable pain and suffering. His decision to target people attending religious services at a place of worship — many of them elderly and disabled — made the attack that much worse, she said.

“These were not victims who could run away or fight back. They were easy prey,” said Vasquez Schmitt, telling jurors they would hear testimony about their lives and how much they are loved and missed.

She asked the jury to hold Bowers accountable, calling the death penalty a “verdict of justice.”

The defense, in its opening statement, focused on Bowers’ difficult childhood. Bowers’ parents divorced when he was a baby, his father took his own life after being charged with rape, and his mother later told Bowers she wished he had never been born, said public defender Elisa Long.

Bowers was “hungry and cold” throughout much of his early life and was “profoundly shaped” by childhood trauma, Long said. Later, as an adult, he was a loner with few friends, she said.

The defense argued that mental illness and brain abnormalities made Bowers more susceptible to being influenced by the extremist content he found online.

“We ask each of you at the end of this process to look deep in your heart and conclude enough is enough,” Long told the jury. “Another death will not make things right.”

Also killed in the attack were Joyce Fienberg, 75; Rose Mallinger, 97; Dr. Jerry Rabinowitz, 66; brothers David Rosenthal, 54, and Cecil Rosenthal, 59; Bernice Simon, 84, and her husband, Sylvan Simon, 86; Dan Stein, 71; Melvin Wax, 87; and Irving Younger, 69.

National News

Gold Star family members on stage during the Republican National Convention on Wednesday, July 17, ...

Associated Press

Families of service members killed during Afghanistan withdrawal criticize Biden at GOP convention

MILWAUKEE (AP) — Relatives of some of the 13 American service members killed during the chaotic withdrawal from Afghanistan appeared on stage at the Republican National Convention Wednesday in an emotional moment that revived one of the low points of President Joe Biden’s presidency. Many of the Gold Star families have criticized Biden for never […]

12 minutes ago

Associated Press

US judge dismisses Republican challenge over counting of post-Election Day mail ballots in Nevada

RENO, Nev. (AP) — A federal judge on Wednesday dismissed a lawsuit filed by national and state Republicans that sought to bar Nevada from counting mail ballots received after Election Day. A state law passed by Democrats in 2021 allows election officials to tally ballots received by 5 p.m. on the fourth day after Election […]

2 hours ago

Boson's mate second class Tyler Boon navigates a U.S. Coast Guard small response boat down the Milw...

Associated Press

Heavily armed security boats patrol winding Milwaukee River during GOP convention

MILWAUKEE (AP) — Instead of kayakers and tour boats, the summertime scene on the Milwaukee River has taken on a solemn tone this week during the Republican National Convention: Around-the-clock patrol boats, some with heavily armed officers. Security planners have had to contend with the winding waterways through Milwaukee near the Fiserv Center RNC convention […]

2 hours ago

Associated Press

California first state to get federal funds for hydrogen energy hub to help replace fossil fuels

SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) — California will be the first state to receive federal funds under a program to create regional networks, or “hubs,” that produce hydrogen as an energy source for vehicles, manufacturing and generating electricity, officials announced Wednesday. The U.S. Department of Energy said the California Hydrogen Hub will receive an initial $30 million […]

2 hours ago

Associated Press

Appeals court refuses to lift order blocking rule meant to expand protections for LGBTQ+ students

FRANKFORT, Ky. (AP) — A federal appeals court on Wednesday refused to lift a judge’s order temporarily blocking the Biden administration’s new Title IX rule meant to expand protections for LGBTQ+ students. The ruling from the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals kept in place a preliminary injunction issued last month by a federal district […]

3 hours ago

Republican presidential candidate former President Donald Trump is surrounded by U.S. Secret Servic...

Associated Press

Trump has given no official info about his medical care for days since an assassination attempt

MILWAUKEE (AP) — Four days after a gunman’s attempt to assassinate former President Donald Trump at a Pennsylvania rally, the public is still in the dark over the extent of his injuries, what treatment the Republican presidential nominee received in the hospital, and whether there may be any long-term effects on his health. Trump’s campaign […]

3 hours ago

Jurors weighing fate of Pittsburgh synagogue killer hear of the devastation he left behind