The trial of the man accused of murdering 11 people and seriously wounding six others at the Tree of Life building on Oct. 27, 2018, is scheduled to begin with voir dire, or jury selection, on April 24, 2023.
The impending date has engendered a variety of emotions from survivors of the massacre.
“We are thrilled to have a trial date,” said Andrea Wedner, who was shot during the massacre. Her mother, Rose Mallinger, was also shot and died from her injuries. “It’s been quite some time, and they keep telling us they’re going to have a trial date, and we don’t. So, to finally hear that is very overwhelming.”
Wedner, a member of Tree of Life Congregation, hopes the trial date will stick but said she doesn’t expect to find closure when it’s over.
“We’ll never have closure,” she said, “but it will let us get on with our lives in a way that we don’t have to think about that part anymore.”
Fellow Tree of Life member and survivor Audrey Glickman said that when she learned of the date the voir dire is to commence, she wondered whether jury selection is simply the beginning of a long process.
She believes one of the reasons the trial has been delayed for so long is because the attorneys undertook a psychological profile of the accused murderer — something she views as unfair to the survivors.
“As the years have gone by, all of your psychological conditions have changed,” she said. “They should have assessed his psychological condition right away when he perpetrated the crime.”
Glickman said the wait hasn’t been easy, adding that a speedy trial is just as important for the victims of a crime as it is for the perpetrator.
She sees another essential reason for getting the trial completed.
“It will, I hope, somehow get him out of communication with everyone else in the world and stop influencing people,” Glickman said. “We know that he’s still influencing people. We know that people look at him, and he’s living the life of luxury in prison and nothing’s happening to him. I think now is the time to make a statement that this isn’t OK, and we can’t keep doing this.”
New Light Congregation rabbi and survivor Jonathan Perlman feels no relief with the start of the trial.
“As this season of divine justice approaches, we take small comfort in the application of human justice,” he wrote in an email to the Chronicle. A deadline reaches the ears of the murderer recalling the Prophet Amos: ‘When the shofar is sounded, does it not cause dread among the people?’ Whatever measure of justice is meted out, it cannot begin to address the immeasurable harm done to the eleven martyrs and their families.”
New Light member Barry Werber also survived the Oct. 27 attack. He said his first thought when learning that a trial date was finally been set was a simple one: “What took you so long?”
Werber said that the more than four-year delay paints a poor picture of the legal system, noting that some members of his congregation, which he termed “elderly,” have passed away waiting for the start of the trial. He fears, he said, that by the time the trial begins, others will have died as well.
“And there’s still no resolution for the families or for their survivors, or for the community at large,” he said. “It just doesn’t sit right at all.”
Like Wedner, Werber doesn’t expect the beginning, nor the end, of the trial to bring closure.
“Every time it comes up in the news, every time it comes up in the papers or television or even in the Chronicle, it’s just picking at the scab. It feels like the final resolution will never come in my lifetime. I’m 80 years old. My wife has lung cancer. I have ailments. Everything seems to have become cumulative since Oct. 27,” he said.
Jon Pushinsky, a Congregation Dor Hadash member and congregation spokesperson, said that people with whom he’s spoken are anxious to get the trial completed.
“We still wish the case ends without a trial,” he said, “but if a trial is going to be necessary, let’s get it done and over with.”
While the defendant’s attorneys have offered to plead guilty in exchange for a life sentence, prosecutors are pursuing the death penalty.
Pushinsky noted that there likely will be years of appeals to follow, and, as a result, setting a date for trial proceedings to begin is less the beginning of the end and more akin to just one step closer to the end.
Survivor and Dor Hadash member Daniel Leger said that his feeling about the date being scheduled for jury selection can’t be summed up with one emotion.
“Overall, though, it’s a great relief to know that there’s an actual date set to begin this process that has been dragging on now for four years,” he said.
The possibility of the death penalty, which Leger said he doesn’t agree with, has lengthened and complicated the process, he said.
Leger’s wife, Ellen Leger, said she hopes that by the next High Holiday season the trial will have ended, but she understands the appeals process might go on for years.
“But we’re looking towards next High Holidays with the hope that there will be some resolution,” she said.
Like Werber, Leger is concerned about the age of some of his congregation’s members.
“It’s really sad that a number of people who were probably expected to be witnesses to this — time has passed, four years — the age of these people has put them in a position of either not being alive by the time the trial occurs or having significant enough health problems that they won’t be able to participate,” he said.
Leger bemoaned the nearly half-decade delay in the start of the trial, aware that it might prevent any sort of finality for many.
As for Leger, closure isn’t possible.
“There is no end to this process,” he said. “This is something that will remain with us for the rest of our lives. The community’s history has been affected. This is an important part of the process that has to be moved forward. We’ve got to get this trial finished.” PJC
David Rullo can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.