Jury finally selected in synagogue massacre trial
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10/27 TrialTestimony scheduled to begin Tuesday

Jury finally selected in synagogue massacre trial

The jury is comprised of seven men and 11 women, all of whom are white except one Asian woman.

Memorial outside the Tree of Life building, Oct. 2018 (Photo by Toby Tabachnick)
Memorial outside the Tree of Life building, Oct. 2018 (Photo by Toby Tabachnick)

A jury has been seated in the federal death penalty trial of the man accused of killing 11 worshippers at the Tree of Life synagogue building in October 2018.

After a month of selection, 18 people — 12 jurors and six alternates — were selected Thursday to hear the case of the United States v. Robert Bowers.

The jury is comprised of seven men and 11 women, all of whom are white except one Asian woman. U.S. District Judge Robert Colville said he was disappointed that the jury is not more diverse, but he will swear in the jurors on Tuesday morning when testimony is set to begin.

The trial is expected to last into July.

The defendant is accused of shooting worshippers from three congregations on Oct. 27, 2018. The motive was hatred of Jews, the prosecution says.

The Justice Department is seeking the death penalty. The defense is hoping to convince the jury to spare the defendant’s life.

The final day of jury selection was devoted largely to defense challenges to prosecution strikes. The government had 20 peremptory strikes and used some of them to strike four Black jurors, a Hispanic person and a person who is Jewish.

Under the law, jurors cannot be eliminated on the grounds of race, gender or ethnic origin. One of the defense lawyers, Elisa Long, said the government’s strikes inferred discrimination because the elimination resulted in no Black or Hispanic people being left in the jury pool.

Mary Hahn, one of the prosecutors, said the jurors were stricken for reasons other than race or religion, such as their views on the death penalty.

One of the Black jurors also didn’t show up in court on Thursday, and no one knew where he was; Hahn said he would be unreliable for a two-month trial.

Colville rejected the defense objections to the strikes, saying the government had given good reasons.

But he also indicated he wasn’t happy with the racial makeup of the jury, saying he was “personally” disappointed that the panel doesn’t reflect the diversity of the Western District of Pennsylvania. PJC

Torsten Ove 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 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.

This story was update on May 28 to include additional information about the defense challenges to the prosecution’s strikes.

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