Federal hate crimes charges added in California synagogue attack

Prosecutors charge John Earnest with 109 counts of federal hate crimes and civil rights violations.

    Federal hate crimes charges added in California synagogue attack
    John Earnest, accused in the fatal shooting at the Chabad of Poway synagogue, stands in court during an arraignment hearing in San Diego, California [Nelvin C Cepeda/Reuters]

    A California man accused of carrying out a deadly shooting spree in a San Diego-area synagogue and arson at a nearby mosque was charged on Thursday with 109 counts of federal hate crimes and civil rights violations, prosecutors in the United States said.

    John Earnest, 19, was already charged in state court with one count of murder and three counts of attempted murder in the April 27 attack at the Chabad of Poway synagogue, which left one worshipper dead and three others wounded, including a rabbi.

    The federal charges include murder for the killing of 60-year-old Lori Kaye, 60, who was hit twice as she prayed in the foyer. It also includes a charge for the attempted murder of 53 others.

    "The complaint alleges the defendant violently targeted members of the synagogue and mosque for no other reason than his hatred of the Jewish people and those of the Muslim faith,"  US lawyer Robert Brewer said.

    Earnest pleaded not guilty to the state charges, and to one count of arson on a house of worship stemming from a pre-dawn fire that damaged the Islamic Center of Escondido on March 24. No one was injured in the blaze. 

    Anti-Semitic, anti-Muslim manifesto

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    Earnest, who was enrolled at the California State University at San Marcos, was arrested shortly after the synagogue shooting north of San Diego. Authorities linked him to the arson through an online manifesto in which they say he claimed responsibility for setting fire to the mosque.

    The author of the violently anti-Semitic, anti-Muslim screed also professed to have drawn inspiration from the gunman who killed 50 people at two mosques in New Zealand earlier in March.

    The state charges allege that the synagogue shooting was perpetrated as a hate crime. If convicted of those charges, Earnest would face life in prison without parole, or the death penalty.

    In the separate federal criminal complaint filed on Thursday in US District Court in San Diego, Earnest was charged with 54 counts of obstruction of free exercise of religious beliefs resulting in death and bodily injury, plus 54 counts of violating federal hate-crime statutes, Brewer said.

    Earnest also was charged with causing damage to religious property involving use of a dangerous weapon or fire.

    Two people hug as another man talks to a San Diego County Sheriff's deputy outside of the Chabad of Poway synagogue [Denis Poroy/AP Photo]

    Authorities said Earnest walked into the Poway synagogue during Sabbath prayers on the last day of the week-long Jewish Passover holiday and opened fire.  

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    The gunman's weapon apparently jammed and he was chased from the temple by a former army sergeant in the congregation, then sped away in a car as an off-duty US Border Patrol agent shot at the getaway vehicle. Earnest pulled over and surrendered to police soon afterwards.

    After the gunman fled the scene he called 911 from his car and told a dispatcher that he had opened fire at a synagogue, thought he killed some people and said he did it because "I'm just trying to defend my nation from the Jewish people ...They're destroying our people," according to the federal affidavit.

    He went on to tell the dispatcher that he did it because "the Jewish people are destroying the white race."

    Federal hate crime charges were also filed against Robert Bowers, a gunman who killed 11 worshippers at the Pittsburgh synagogue. Authorities say Bowers also expressed hatred of Jews. Bowers, 46, has pleaded not guilty

    SOURCE: News agencies