Tree of Life Synagogue Mass Shooting Trial Begins: What to Know

In several posts before the killing, he turned his ire on HIAS, an organization that helps resettle refugees in the United States. Dor Hadash had been one of hundreds of Jewish congregations nationwide to celebrate a National Refugee Shabbat a week before the massacre. Mr. Bowers singled that out in his posts, writing shortly before the killing: “HIAS likes to bring invaders in that kill our people. I can’t sit by and watch my people get slaughtered. Screw your optics, I’m going in.”

The authorities said that he had 21 guns registered in his name, and that he carried out the shooting at Tree of Life with three Glock .357 handguns and a Colt AR-15 semiautomatic rifle.

Mr. Bowers was injured during a shootout with the police that ended the attack. He was later charged with 63 crimes, including 11 counts of hate crimes resulting in death and 11 counts of obstruction of free exercise of religious beliefs resulting in death. He is facing 36 state charges as well, including 11 counts of murder, but the Allegheny County District Attorney is holding those charges in abeyance for the federal criminal proceedings.

Mr. Bowers’s defense team has argued in briefs that a series of psychiatric and neurological tests, along with “significant events” in his life history, have established that he is suffering from a “major mental illness” that includes schizophrenia, in addition to having “structural and functional brain impairments” and epilepsy.

His defense team includes Judy Clarke, who has made a career pleading with juries to spare the lives of people responsible for some of the nation’s most notorious acts of violence, including one of the Boston Marathon bombers, the Unabomber and the man who opened fire in an Arizona grocery store parking lot, killing six people and injuring 13, including former Representative Gabrielle Giffords.

Mr. Bowers’s lawyers have repeatedly but unsuccessfully challenged the government’s intention to seek the death penalty. In a filing this year, defense lawyers argued that under Attorney General Merrick B. Garland, the Justice Department had been arbitrary in deciding whether or not to pursue capital punishment. They cited hundreds of other murder cases in which Mr. Garland had elected not to seek the death penalty, including the 2019 mass shooting by an anti-immigrant extremist in a Walmart in El Paso.

The government has rebutted these arguments by insisting that there are factors in this case, such as Mr. Bowers’s open antisemitism and his decision to attack during a worship service, “that make the death penalty specifically warranted here.”

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