The Lead

Jury sentences gunman in Pittsburgh synagogue shooting to death

By: - August 2, 2023 1:22 pm

The Tree of Life synagogue in Squirrel Hill, Pittsburgh. (Capital-Star photo)

Robert Bowers, the man convicted in the 2018 mass shooting at a Pittsburgh synagogue that left 11 people dead, has been sentenced to death by a federal jury. 

Three congregations were housed in the building in the city’s Squirrel Hill neighborhood where the attack occurred: Tree of Life, Dor Hadash, and New Light. Killed in the attack were Joyce Fienberg, Richard Gottfried, Rose Mallinger, Jerry Rabinowitz, Cecil Rosenthal, David Rosenthal, Bernice Simon, Sylvan Simon, Daniel Stein, Melvin Wax, and Irving Younger.

Many of the victims’ families had previously said they wanted Bowers to receive a death sentence. 

The jury convicted Bowers, 50, on all 63 charges against him on June 16, and on July 13 determined he was eligible for the death penalty. 

Rabbi Jeffrey Myers, who survived the attack, thanked the jury for its work and the broader Pittsburgh community for its ongoing support.

“In the years we have spent waiting for this trial to take place, many of us have been stuck in neutral,” Myers said in a statement. “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. As we do, I have my faith, bolstered by the embrace and respect with which my community has been treated by our government and our fellow citizens.”

The family of Bernice and Sylvan Simon expressed their “extreme gratitude” to the jury for the care its members took considering the evidence in the case. “They patiently and very attentively listened to all of the testimony and scrutinized the voluminous amount of evidence presented throughout the entire trial,” the statement reads. “We fully respect their verdict and decisions.”

Rose Mallinger’s family said in a statement that they felt “a measure of justice has been served.” They added that the sentence “is a testament to our justice system and a message to all that this type of heinous act will not be tolerated. 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.”

Stephen Cohen and Barbara Caplan, co-presidents of the New Light Congregation said Bowers’ actions and words made clear his intent to murder Jewish people. 

New Light Congregation agrees with the Government’s position that no one may murder innocent individuals simply because of their religion,” they said in the statement. “We take this position not out of a desire to seek revenge or to ‘even the score’ but because we believe that the shooter crossed a line.” A sentence of life in prison would have allowed Bowers “to celebrate his deed for many years,” they added.

State Rep. Dan Frankel, D-Allegheny, whose district includes Squirrel Hill, has introduced several pieces of anti-hate legislation since the shootings. He’s co-chair of the Pa. Jewish Legislative Caucus, and said Wednesday he was grateful the trial was over.

“I respect the wisdom of a jury who has found this act of hate and violence abhorrent and beyond the bounds of rehabilitation,” Frankel said in a statement. “This verdict doesn’t restore the lives of the people lost to hate. We will forever mourn them, and the loss is sewn into the fabric of our community, just as the building on the corner of Shady and Wilkins avenues attests to both the tragedy – and hopefully – the path forward in healing and education.”

The jury’s decision is binding on U.S. District Judge Robert J. Colville, who is expected to impose the sentence at a hearing on Thursday. 

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Kim Lyons
Kim Lyons

Kim is a veteran western Pennsylvania journalist who has covered people and trends in politics and business for local and national publications.