A federal jury deliberated most of the day Tuesday over the fate of the convicted synagogue mass shooter but didn’t reach a decision and will come back Wednesday.
Their choice is stark: Does Robert Bowers get life in prison or death in the federal execution chamber in Terre Haute, Indiana?
The defendant stands convicted of slaughtering 11 worshippers at the Tree of Life synagogue building on Oct. 27, 2018, and wounding others, including several police officers. The jury has already determined that he is eligible for the death penalty. The only issue now is whether he gets it.
Prosecutors said the defendant attacked the synagogue because of a hatred of Jews, whom he called the “children of Satan” behind a sinister conspiracy orchestrating an “invasion” of refugees and immigrants into the U.S. to replace the white majority.
The day was not without some minor drama.
Shortly after beginning deliberations, the jurors told the judge that they wanted to see the guns the defendant carried and used to murder his victims: An AR-15 assault rifle, a shotgun and three handguns.
In the presence of U.S. marshals, they viewed the weapons in the courtroom. But when some jurors asked a marshal questions about the guns and he answered them, the defense objected.
The judge cleared the jury from the room and then had the marshal take the stand to testify about the conversation with the jury.
The marshal said the jurors asked him about where the handguns were carried, how to load the shotgun and if one of the magazines on display was for the AR-15. He said he didn’t know where the handguns were carried, he explained how the shotgun is loaded and he answered yes about the magazine.
The defense immediately asked for a mistrial, with public defender Elisa Long saying it was improper for the marshal to speak to the jury about evidence.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Soo Song countered that the judge could resolve the issue without a mistrial by simply telling the jury to disregard anything the marshal said about the guns.
Colville did just that and the jury resumed deliberations.
The jury had a second question later in the day, asking to review defense exhibits concerning the defendant’s mental health history.
The judge said the jurors already had those exhibits in evidence binders given to each.
The judge let the jury go home at about 4:30 and said they will come back Wednesday morning to continue.
Bowers is only the fourth federal defendant in the history of the Western District of Pennsylvania to face the death penalty. None of the others received a death sentence. PJC
Torsten Ove writes for the Pittsburgh Union Progress. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. 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.