Life is about to get much harder for the Pittsburgh synagogue shooter.
Convicted of 22 capital offenses and 41 other charges, the man who murdered 11 members of the Pittsburgh Jewish community as they celebrated Shabbat on Oct. 27, 2018, most likely will be housed at the United States Penitentiary in Terre Haute, Indiana.
The prison complex includes low-, medium- and maximum-security units. In 1993, it was designated as the site where federal death row sentences would be carried out and includes the Special Confinement Unit for men on federal death row.
Nicknamed “Guantanamo of the North,” Terre Haute’s death row holds a mixture of terrorists, serial killers, white supremacists and child molesters, according to The Week magazine. It’s where the Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh was executed. It is also where Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, convicted of the 2013 Boston Marathon bombing, and Dylann Roof, who killed nine Black church parishioners in Charleston, South Carolina, in 2015, are housed.
There were 38 inmates confined there as of January, according to the American Civil Liberties Union of Indiana.
Inmates spend nearly all of their time in small cells with little allowances for outside exercise, according to media reports. In 2021, the prison had the highest number of COVID-19 cases in the federal prison system.
In 2008, the ACLU sent a letter to the Federal Bureau of Prisons calling conditions in Terre Haute’s Special Confinement Unit “grossly inadequate.” Prisoners housed there, the ACLU said, were denied access to basic medical care, mental health services, and timely and adequate dental care.
Inmates, the letter said, were subjected to incessant noise, causing sleep deprivation and psychological and physiological stress.
In 2015, Business Insider cited Sister Rita Clare Gerardot’s interview in Terre Haute’s Tribune Star, where she said that prisoners are isolated for most of their time there.
Gerardot was a spiritual adviser to death row inmates at the facility. She said that meals are pushed through a slot in a cell’s door and inmates have no recreational opportunities, although they are allowed out of their cells and into cages three times a week.
The conditions outlined by Gerardot were some of the reasons the ACLU of Indiana, along with the law firm Faegre Drinker Biddle & Reath LLP, filed suit against the Federal Bureau of Prisons in January.
The class action complaint was filed on behalf of Jurijus Kadamovas and 37 other death row inmates, alleging that the prisoners are subjected to unrelenting solitary confinement that is severely isolating and falls below the minimum standard prescribed by international human rights treaties for the punishment of prisoners, and violates the U.S. Constitution’s prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment.
The lawsuit claims that death row inmates are automatically assigned to the Special Confinement Unit in solitary conditions and are housed in cells that measure 12 feet, 7 inches by 7 feet, with small, slit-like windows. The cells contain a table, stool, sink/toilet unit and shower, further reducing the amount of space available in the cells, where, the lawsuit alleges, prisoners are likely to remain in solitary confinement for decades.
And the Pittsburgh synagogue shooter might, indeed, spend decades at the prison.
Sentenced to death on Thursday, Aug. 3, for the murders of Joyce Fienberg, Richard Gottfried, Rose Mallinger, Jerry Rabinowitz, Cecil Rosenthal, David Rosenthal, Bernice Simon, Sylvan Simon, Daniel Stein, Melvin Wax and Irving Younger, the convicted killer is most likely at the beginning of a long appeals process.
And Attorney General Merrick Garland has imposed a moratorium on federal executions while the Justice Department continues a review of the death penalty. PJC
David Rullo 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.