Man found guilty in Pittsburgh synagogue attack that killed 11

A jury convicted Robert Bowers of all 63 counts related to a 2018 massacre, the deadliest attack on Jews in US history.

A makeshift memorial sits outside the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania [File: Matt Rourke/The Associated Press]

A man has been found guilty of a hate-fuelled 2018 attack on a synagogue in the United States city of Pittsburgh that killed 11 people.

The mass shooting on October 27, 2018, at the Tree of Life synagogue represented the deadliest targeting of Jews in US history.

The verdict announced on Monday was all but assured after the lawyers for the accused man, truck driver Robert Bowers, conceded at the trial’s outset that he attacked and killed worshippers.

Bowers was tried on 63 criminal counts, including hate crimes resulting in death and obstruction of the free exercise of religion resulting in death. He was found guilty on all counts.

Prosecutors had previously refused a deal offered by the defence, which would have seen the 50-year-old Bowers plead guilty in return for a life sentence.

Prosecutors instead opted to take the case to trial and pursue the death penalty. Jurors are set to determine if Bowers should be sentenced to death at a later date.

Bowers espoused anti-Jewish rhetoric and is said to have targeted the synagogue based on his belief that Jews were helping immigrants come to the US.

Prosecutors said that Bowers had posted anti-Jewish content online and shouted, “All Jews must die!” when he burst into the synagogue wielding an AR-15 semi-automatic weapon. The majority of those killed were elderly.

In closing arguments, prosecutor Mary Hahn described Bowers as “filled with hatred for Jews”.

“That is what propelled him to act,” she said.

Public defender Elisa Long, however, argued that Bowers had been blinded by “nonsensical and irrational” beliefs about immigration and was not necessarily motivated by anti-Jewish hate or disrupting religious activity.

Long said Bowers adhered to the “great replacement” conspiracy theory, which says that white people are being replaced by non-white immigrants. She said Bowers placed the Jewish refugee nonprofit Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society (HIAS) at the centre of this conspiracy theory.

The organisation’s slogan is “Welcome the stranger. Protect the refugee.”

Still, in closing arguments, Long said there was “no justification” for Bowers’s actions and acknowledged the survivors’ pain.

That pain was on full display in survivor statements and in 911 call recordings that were played during the trial.

Dan Leger, who was shot in the leg during the attack, recounted lying on the floor, expecting his wound to be fatal. Finally seeing someone walk by, he raised his hand.

“Either this is a helper or the shooter,” he recounted. “I was dying and I had nothing to lose.”

“This one’s alive,” he heard an EMT say.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies