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What to know as Tree of Life synagogue shooting trial begins

Jury selection begins Monday for the trial of a man accused of killing 11 people at the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh, more than four years after the massacre took place.

Here’s what to know as the trial starts up.

Shooting killed 11 in Pittsburgh

Robert Gregory Bowers, a truck driver from the Pittsburgh suburbs, is accused of killing 11 Jewish worshippers at the Pittsburgh-area Tree of Life synagogue. Seven others were injured, including officers who exchanged fire with the gunman.

Police sources said at the time the shooter shouted “all Jews must die” as he entered the building and opened fire. Members of three congregations — the Tree of Life, Dor Hadash, and New Light Jewish congregations — had gathered for worship.

The Anti-Defamation League (ADL) called the attack the deadliest against Jewish people in U.S. history.

The accused faces 63 charges, including hate crimes charges

Bowers, 50, faces 63 charges, including 11 counts of hate crimes resulting in death and 11 counts of obstruction of free exercise of religion resulting in death.

He offered to plead guilty in return for a life sentence, but federal prosecutors turned him down and are seeking the death penalty. Bowers has pleaded not guilty.

Prosecutors have said Bowers “harbored deep, murderous animosity towards all Jewish people” and alleged that he “promoted his antisemitic views” to followers on social media.

Bowers allegedly carried out the attack with a Colt AR-15 rifle and three Glock .357 handguns.

Prosecutors seek death penalty 

Despite President Biden’s campaign trail claims that he would seek to abolish the death penalty at the federal level, prosecutors continue to seek such a sentence for Bowers.

But Pennsylvania Gov. Josh Shapiro (D) has said he won’t sign any execution warrants as governor.

“It’s hard to imagine a more heinous crime than murdering 11 people as they pray. And candidly, my first reaction was that the killer deserved to be put to death. Over time, however, my belief on this topic has evolved,” Shapiro said in February.

“I listened to the members of the Tree of Life community and was blown away by their courage and their fortitude. They told me that even after all the pain and anguish, they did not want the killer put to death,” he said.

The shooter who killed 17 people at a high school in Parkland, Fla., in 2018 was sentenced to life in prison, rather than the death penalty, last year.

Defense says Bowers has mental health struggles

Bowers’ defense team argued in a filing last month, just ahead of trial, that the defendant has schizophrenia, epilepsy and structural and functional brain impairments that they say are supported by neuropsychological testing and brain imaging.

At the same time, they’ve argued prosecutors should not conduct their own probe into all aspects of Bowers’ mental health. 

Trial comes over 4 years after shooting

The trial is starting more than four years after the tragedy. The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reports the trial was delayed by the COVID-19 pandemic and the nature of the high-profile case.

The same outlet also reports jury selection could take as long as a month, meaning the case might not kick off with testimony until later this year.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Tags Joe Biden Josh Shapiro trial

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