Synagogue shooter’s lawyers ask to exhume presumed father’s corpse to prove paternity
10/27 TrialPenalty phase of trial

Synagogue shooter’s lawyers ask to exhume presumed father’s corpse to prove paternity

The shooter's mother has said she is not sure who his father is.

A flag flies across the street from the Joseph F. Weis, Jr. U.S. Courthouse on July 13. (Photo by Adam Reinherz)
A flag flies across the street from the Joseph F. Weis, Jr. U.S. Courthouse on July 13. (Photo by Adam Reinherz)

Lawyers for the Pittsburgh synagogue killer want his father’s corpse dug up so they can prove paternity.

In a motion filed Tuesday, the defense team is asking U.S. District Judge Robert Colville to order the exhumation of Randall Bowers for a DNA paternity test.

At issue is schizophrenia. The defense says Robert Bowers suffers from it and so should not be put to death for slaughtering 11 worshippers at the Tree of Life synagogue building in 2018.

Lawyers say Randall Bowers, who killed himself when the defendant was a boy, suffered from schizophrenia. The disease runs in families, the defense said. So the lawyers want to prove that Randall is indeed Robert’s father to bolster their contention that Robert is also schizophrenic.

But the prosecution has cast doubt that Randall is the father during the cross-examination of a key defense witness, psychologist Katherine Porterfield, who performed a psychological history of the defendant.

Porterfield had made entries in her notes that Barbara Bolt, the shooter’s mother, had said she was not sure if “Dell” was Robert’s father. She also said a neighbor told her that Barbara was seeing several men at the time when the defendant was born.

“The evidence also establishes that Randall Bowers was diagnosed with schizophrenia,” the defense motion said. “Evidence establishing mental illness on Robert Bowers’ paternal side, particularly from a first degree relative such as his father, strengthens the basis for concluding that Mr. Bowers too suffers from a serious mental illness.”

The lawyers said that the fact that prosecutors are trying to instill doubt about Randall’s paternity is an indication that they too think the issue of paternity is important.

“Considering that evidence Mr. Bowers is a person with schizophrenia is a key part of his defense in mitigation and the public policy of the Department of Justice against executing individuals with serious mental illness, the interests of justice support ordering the exhumation of Randall Bowers’ body to confirm paternity for Robert Bowers,” the defense said.

Prosecutors had not yet responded to the motion as of Tuesday afternoon.

The defendant has been convicted of the killings and the jury has found him eligible for the death penalty. Both sides are now presenting aggravating and mitigating factors to either send him to the federal death chamber in Indiana or to prison for life. PJC

Torsten Ove writes for the Pittsburgh Union Progress. He can be reached at jtorsteno@gmail.com. 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.

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