(NEW YORK) —
A federal jury has sentenced Pittsburgh synagogue mass shooter Robert Bowers to death.
All 12 jurors had to agree to impose the death penalty. Otherwise, Bowers would have been sentenced to life in prison.
Wednesday’s verdict came on the second day of deliberations.
Bowers shot and killed 11 worshippers, including a 97-year-old woman, at the Tree of Life synagogue on Oct. 27, 2018, in the deadliest antisemitic attack in American history.
Many families commended the jurors who sat through grueling, graphic testimony.
Howard Fienberg, whose mother, 75-year-old Joyce Fienberg, was killed, said at a news conference Wednesday that the verdict brings him “relief.”
“The jury sat through months of horror and delivered justice to my mom and everyone that was killed and everyone that was injured and beyond,” he said.
Leigh Stein, whose father, 71-year-old Daniel Stein, was killed in the shooting, said, “A piece of my heart will forever be gone,” but now “finally justice has been served.”
“I feel like a weight has been lifted,” Stein said.
The family of 97-year-old victim Rose Mallinger said in a statement, “Although we will never attain closure from the loss of our beloved Rose Mallinger, we now feel a measure of justice has been served.”
“Returning a sentence of death is not a decision that comes easy, but we must hold accountable those who wish to commit such terrible acts of antisemitism, hate, and violence,” the family said. “May we always remember those who were taken too soon — Joyce Fienberg, Richard Gottfried, Jerry Rabinowitz, Cecil and David Rosenthal, Daniel Stein, Bernice and Sylvan Simon, Irving Younger, Melvin Wax, and Rose Mallinger. May their memories be for a blessing.”
Rabbi Jeffrey Myers, who survived the massacre, said in a statement, “In the years we have spent waiting for this trial to take place, many of us have been stuck in neutral. It was a challenge to move forward with the looming specter of a murder trial.”
“Now that the trial is nearly over and the jury has recommended a death sentence, it is my hope that we can begin to heal and move forward,” Myers said. “I have my faith, bolstered by the embrace and respect with which my community has been treated by our government and our fellow citizens. For this and the seriousness with which the jury took its duty, I remain forever grateful.”
Bowers had offered to plead guilty if the death penalty was taken off the table, but prosecutors turned him down.
Bowers “killed half of the people in that building. He murdered them because they were Jewish,” Eric Olshan, U.S. attorney for the Western District of Pennsylvania, told reporters on Wednesday.
“He also shot two other congregants and he tried to kill every other person in that building,” including the first responders, Olshan said. Four police officers were shot and injured in the attack.
He was convicted in June on all 63 charges against him, including 11 counts of hate crimes resulting in death.
“Nothing has been the same” since that day, Olshan said. “Not for the families who lost beloved family members and not for those who survived but bare the scars, physical and emotional.”
Bowers “acted because of white supremacist, antisemitic and bigoted views that unfortunately are not original or unique to him,” Olshan said. “Sadly, they are too common.”
“When people who espouse white supremacist, antisemitic and bigoted views pick up weapons and use them to kill or to try to kill people because of their faith, our office and our partners … will hold them accountable,” he said.
Christopher Giordano, assistant special agent in charge for the FBI in Pittsburgh, called the verdict the “end of one of the darkest chapters” in Pittsburgh history.
To the victims’ families, he said, “I hope today allows you to close this terrible chapter and continue moving forward and continue healing.”
The Pittsburgh massacre was “not the first attack at a house of worship and it hasn’t been the last,” Giordano continued.
“Hate has no place in our community. We will stop at nothing to keep our community safe,” he said.
Martin Gaynor, who survived the massacre, said, “Thank God I survived and I’m alive and I’m here to see this day.”
Despite the verdict, “antisemitism is rising, including the spread and promotion of hate on social media,” he said. “I and all of the survivors and all of the family members of the victims … know where this leads.”
Gaynor said this verdict helps send a signal that “antisemitism and hate have no place in our hearts, no place in our communities, no place in our country and will not be tolerated.”
On July 13, the jury decided Bowers and the crime met the criteria to be eligible for the death penalty. That led to the final phase of the trial, which included testimony from victims’ families.
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