Oct. 27 shooter seeks government’s knowledge of his online activities
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Synagogue shootingCriminal case update

Oct. 27 shooter seeks government’s knowledge of his online activities

While the information requested would not impact the defendant’s culpability for the murders, it could affect sentencing, say defense lawyers.

The Tree of Life building days after the attack. (Photo by Adam Reinherz)
The Tree of Life building days after the attack. (Photo by Adam Reinherz)

Attorneys for the man accused of murdering 11 Jews in the Tree of Life building on Oct. 27, 2018, want the government to produce any information concerning its monitoring of the defendant online prior to the massacre.

In a motion filed on March 30, defense attorneys asked the court to order the government to produce documentation of its awareness of the accused’s “activity on the Gab.com platform in 2018, and those with whom he communicated on that platform, prior to the shootings at issue in this case.”

Gab.com is a social media network popular among the alt-right and some extremists.

While the information requested would not impact the defendant’s legal culpability, “it is potentially mitigating or could lead to mitigating evidence that is relevant to deciding sentence,” defense attorneys wrote.

Prosecutors are seeking the death penalty.

Pursuant to federal precedent, “the government’s awareness of the potential for a person to commit violence, and the government’s capacity to avert violence, are mitigating circumstances of a capital offense,” according to the defendant’s motion.

The government’s previous filings in this case indicate it had reviewed the accused’s online activities, “at least on Gab.com,” according to the motion filed by the defense. “What is not plain…is whether the government was aware of his online activity prior to the shootings, as well as his exposure to the comments of others suggesting or promoting violence or expressing anti-Semitic comments on Gab.com. The government has also declined to provide information about what, if any, action it took in response to that online activity before October 27, 2018.”

The defense claims in its motion that the government has been monitoring social media sites for anti-Semitic content for more than a decade.

“For years, the government has sponsored the development of software and other tools to track the online activity,” the defense motion states. “In public reports, the government made clear that this threat was significant and should be a focus of law enforcement monitoring and intervention. Based upon the documented monitoring by federal agencies over an extended period of time — both prior to and after Oct. 27, 2018 — there is good cause to believe that the federal government was aware of [the shooter’s] online activity, and the activity of others with whom he interacted on Gab.com, during the months before the shootings at the Tree of Life Synagogue.”

Prosecutors have until April 21 to respond to the motion.

No trial date has been set yet. PJC

Toby Tabachnick

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