Family of Pittsburgh synagogue shooting victims supports pursuing death penalty against accused gunman
Sisters of Cecil and David Rosenthal speak out
The sisters of two victims of the 2018 Pittsburgh synagogue massacre said Friday that they supported the federal government seeking the death penalty against the accused gunman in his upcoming trial.
Diane and Michele Rosenthal said in brief remarks that they wanted the suspect to face the death penalty, despite reports claiming families of all of the victims do not believe the government should pursue capital punishment.
“Many of the news articles and broadcasts claim to represent the deceased victims’ families’ decision on the trial and the death penalty, but those views have not come from the families affected,” Diane Rosenthal said. “Instead, they’ve come from individuals of the congregations, elected officials and others who think they know what’s best for the families.”
The Rosenthal sisters lost their brothers, David and Cecil, in the Oct. 27, 2018, massacre that left 11 dead in total between the three congregations holding services inside of the Tree of Life building: Tree of Life*Or L’Simcha, New Light and Dor Hadash. Six other people were wounded in the attack, including four Pittsburgh police officers.
Jury selection for the trial, expected to last several months, is set to start in two weeks. Some have expressed concerns the trial could retraumatize survivors, families of victims and the community, and that a plea deal could be made that spares the suspect’s life and avoids further court procedures.
But Michele Rosenthal said the idea runs counter to her family’s wishes and “plays right into the hands of the ongoing transparent strategy by the defense to delay in hopes of achieving this result.”
“Our family has suffered long and hard over the last four-and-a-half years,” she continued. “We don’t want to have to continue to defend ourselves and our position. We want justice. We want the legal system to work as it should and have the perpetrator brought to trial and judged by a jury based on the facts of the case.”
Diane Rosenthal also noted seven of the nine families who lost loved ones in the massacre sent a letter in July 2021 to U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland reflecting their support of the death penalty.
The government must pursue capital punishment, she said, because of the nature of the crime and to send a message that violence against Jews will not be tolerated.
“This massacre was not just a mass murder of innocent citizens during a service in a house of worship,” she said. “The death penalty must apply to vindicate justice and to offer some measure of deterrence from horrific hate crimes happening again and again.”
In addition to the two Rosenthal brothers, the massacre victims included Joyce Fienberg, Richard Gottfried, Rose Mallinger, Jerry Rabinowitz, married couple Bernice and Sylvan Simon, Daniel Stein, Melvin Wax and Irving Younger. PJC
Andrew Goldstein writes for the Pittsburgh Union Progress, where this first appeared. He can be reached at [email protected]. This story is part of ongoing coverage of the upcoming Pittsburgh synagogue shooting trial by the Pittsburgh Jewish Chronicle and the Pittsburgh Union Progress in a collaboration supported by funding from the Pittsburgh Media Partnership.