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Case against accused Tree of Life synagogue shooter continues

Matt Rourke

The federal judge in the capital murder case against Robert Bowers in the 2018 Pittsburgh synagogue massacre told lawyers Wednesday she wants a list of pretrial motions and plans to reassess the status of the long-delayed case in January.

U.S. District Judge Donetta Ambrose presided over a two-day evidentiary hearing in Pittsburgh this week to determine whether prosecutors will be allowed to use statements at trial that Bowers is believed to have made to police and investigators immediately after the attack.

Ambrose gave the sides more than a month to make arguments in writing after hearing officers, paramedics and investigators recount statements by Bowers that indicate he was motivated by a hatred of Jewish people. Bowers was not in court for this week's hearing.

Bowers, 49, of Baldwin, Pennsylvania, faces charges of hate crimes violations, obstruction of religious belief and firearms offenses for the Oct. 27, 2018, attack on three congregations during Sabbath services in the Tree of Life synagogue building. Bowers is accused of killing 11 people and wounding seven, including five police officers.

He was shot three times by police before being taken into custody.

Bowers faces a potential death sentence if convicted, but his lawyers have said in court documents that he has been willing to plead guilty in return for a sentence of life without parole, an offer prosecutors apparently did not accept. There is no trial date set.

Pittsburgh police Officer Andrew Miller testified Wednesday that he heard Bowers say, “I had to do it, Jews are the children of Satan. They're murdering our children.”

Another Pittsburgh officer, John Persin, said Bowers spelled out the initials HIAS, an acronym for a Maryland nonprofit group that helps refugees find safety and freedom. The organization, founded as the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society in 1881, says it is guided by Jewish values and history.

Pittsburgh police homicide detective Robert Shaw told Ambrose that he read Bowers his Miranda rights against self-incrimination in an ambulance, and that Bowers invoked his right to legal counsel. Miranda rights were repeated to Bowers in the hospital where he was taken for treatment, Shaw said.

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