A memorial outside the Tree of Life synagogue in Squirrel Hill, Pittsburgh (Capital-Star photo).
(*This developing story was updated at 12:45 p.m. on Friday, June 16, 2023, with additional reporting)
PITTSBURGH – The accused gunman in the 2018 Pittsburgh synagogue shootings that left 11 people dead was found guilty on a total of 63 federal charges on Friday, many of which carry the possibility of a death sentence.
He was found guilty on 11 charges of obstruction of free exercise of religious beliefs resulting in death, one for each victim: Joyce Fienberg, Richard Gottfried, Rose Mallinger, Jerry Rabinowitz, Cecil Rosenthal, David Rosenthal, Bernice Simon, Sylvan Simon, Daniel Stein, Melvin Wax, and Irving Younger.
The jury also found the accused gunman guilty on 11 counts of a hate crime act resulting in death. As a matter of policy, the Capital-Star does not identify those accused and charged in mass-shooting incidents.
The jury deliberated for just over five hours beginning Thursday, after three weeks of testimony that included recordings of 911 calls, and witness accounts from survivors of the attack and first responders to the scene. The accused gunman’s defense team called no witnesses during this phase of the trial.
The synagogue in Pittsburgh’s Squirrel Hill neighborhood houses three congregations — the Tree of Life, Dor Hadash, and New Light.
The trial now moves to the penalty phase, where the jury will decide whether the accused should be sentenced to death.
Rabbi Jeffrey Myers of the Tree of Life Congregation, a survivor of the attack, thanked law enforcement and the U.S. attorneys who led the prosecution.
“I am grateful to God for getting us to this day. And I am thankful for the law enforcement who ran into danger to rescue me, and the U.S. Attorney who stood up in court to defend my right to pray,” Myers said in a statement on Friday. “Today I’m focused on being with my congregation and praying, singing and clapping in praise of God as we do each Shabbat. In the face of the horror our community has experienced, I can think of no better response than practicing my Jewish faith and leading worship.”
In a statement, the Jewish Community Center of Greater Pittsburgh said it “[acknowledges] that today’s verdict is just the first phase of this lengthy trial, as we now begin the penalty phase that will continue through the summer.
“We also recognize that the impact of this shooting extends far beyond those most directly impacted within American society and the Jewish people. We especially thank the citizenry of the greater Pittsburgh region for standing with the Jewish community since October 27, 2018 and supporting our communal efforts towards healing and resiliency,” the organization said.
In a tweet, state Rep. Dan Frankel, D-Allegheny, whose district includes the synagogue, thanked jurors for their service.
“Let us remember that the survivors reopened these wounds and participated in this process for us — for humanity — because there has to be a record,” Frankel said.
Thank you, survivors. Thank you, jury.
Let us remember that the survivors reopened these wounds and participated in this process for us — for humanity — because there has to be a record.
The work to hold back hateful ideologies and violence stands on history. https://t.co/uU3gk8Dt6W
— State Rep. Dan Frankel (@RepDanFrankel) June 16, 2023
State Senate Minority Leader Jay Costa, D-Allegheny, whose district also includes the synagogue noted on Twitter that Friday’s verdict “marks the beginning of delivering justice for this terrible tragedy, but not the end.”
Today’s guilty verdict marks the beginning of delivering justice for this terrible tragedy, but not the end. Our Jewish friends and neighbors will spend decades healing from this attack and mourning the loss of the community members whose lives were lost. https://t.co/ob7mK0aaGD
— Senator Jay Costa (@Senatorcosta) June 16, 2023
Capital-Star Editor John L. Micek contributed additional reporting.
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