- Robert Bowers, 46, faces 29 federal counts over weekend attack
- Jeff Sessions says Bowers could face death penalty if convicted
A man accused of killing 11 Jewish worshippers in a Pittsburgh synagogue over the weekend appeared in federal court on Monday to face multiple charges that federal law enforcement officials said could result in the suspect’s execution.
A handcuffed Robert Bowers, 46, was brought into the courtroom by US marshals wearing latex gloves.
Bowers allegedly traded gunfire with law enforcement officers during Saturday’s attack at the Tree of Life synagogue and was shot multiple times before surrendering. He underwent surgery and survived.
Bowers entered court in a wheelchair, and wore a blue sweatshirt and grey pants. Authorities removed the handcuffs from him before the proceedings.
He remained largely expressionless as Judge Robert Mitchell read from the criminal complaint.
During the proceeding, Bowers talked with two court-appointed lawyers, went over documents and confirmed his identity, saying little more than “Yes” in a soft voice a few times. Courtroom deputies freed one of his hands from cuffs so he could sign paperwork. He did not enter a plea.
He was expressionless.
Among the 29 federal charges Bowers faces are 11 counts of murdering victims exercising their religious beliefs.
The affidavit alleges Bowers entered the synagogue carrying three high-powered handguns and an AR-15 assault rifle.
The US attorney general, Jeff Sessions, has already said that if convicted, Bowers could face the death penalty.
Three congregations were conducting Sabbath services at Tree of Life when the attack began on Saturday morning. The shooter is accused of carrying out the mass killing, while shouting antisemitic slurs. He is also accused of posting antisemitic rants on social media.
Following the shooting Donald Trump announced that he would visit Pittsburgh.
However, many of Pittsburgh’s Jews said the president was not welcome.
“For the past three years your words and your policies have emboldened a growing white nationalist movement,” states a letter by the local affiliate of Bend the Arc, a national Jewish organization. “You yourself called the murderer evil, but yesterday’s violence is the direct culmination of your influence.”
After the hearing, US attorney Scott Brady called the shootings “horrific acts of violence” and added: “Rest assured we have a team of prosecutors working hard to ensure that justice is done.”
Brady has sought federal guidance for pursuing the death penalty against Bowers.