Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Pittsburgh SWAT officer drove 104 mph on I-79 to reach synagogue during shooting

The sign for the Federal courthouse in Pittsburgh is shown on Tuesday, May 30, 2023.
Jessie Wardarski
The sign for the Federal courthouse in Pittsburgh is shown on Tuesday, May 30, 2023.

A first responder in the Pittsburgh synagogue shooting trial on Monday testified to seeing rifle casings and bullet holes throughout the building.

Pittsburgh Police officer Michael Saldutte was one of the SWAT officers that responded to the scene.

On October 27, 2018, an armed man walked into the Tree of Life synagogue and shot and killed 11 Jewish worshipers and injured six people, including four police officers. Robert Bowers has been charged with 63 federal counts, including 11 counts of a hate crime that resulted in death. Bowers’s lawyers offered to plead guilty to the charges in exchange for a sentence of life in prison, but prosecutors are seeking the death penalty.

Saldutte described driving 104 miles per hour down Interstate 79 to reach the synagogue after he was alerted to an active shooter situation there. He offered graphic testimony about what he and fellow officers saw at the building and the firefight with the suspect in which another SWAT officer was injured. Saldutte is expected to finish his testimony Monday afternoon.

Lawyers for the defense on Sunday filed a memorandum in support of their motion to recall prosecution witness Pamela Browning, an intelligence analyst supervisor at the Pennsylvania Criminal Intelligence Center.

Browning created a 61-page report for Pittsburgh Police about the defendant. The full report was not introduced as evidence, but a shorter, redacted version focusing on Bowers’ antisemitic social media posts was introduced and was the subject of much of Browning’s testimony.

Prosecutors first made their motion to recall her on Friday in open court on Friday.

In the filing, the defense argues that the court “erroneously restricted Mr. Bowers’ cross examination of this witness” and asks that the court recalls her “as soon as is practicable” to finish cross examination.

The defense wanted to ask Browning about Bowers’ address history, which she included in her full report. But lawyers for the prosecution objected, saying the questioning was “beyond the scope” of Browning’s testimony. The court sustained the prosecution’s objection.

The defense also filed a motion under seal Sunday night renewing their objection to evidence including graphic crime scene photos of deceased victims.

In court on Monday, defense attorney Ashwin Cattamanchi asked the court to limit the government to one photo of each deceased victim and to group the photos by where the victims were found. He noted that some of the government’s exhibits show different angles and details of the same deceased victims.

Cattamanchi argued that the photos lack “evidentiary value” and are an “improper appeal” to jurors’ emotion, passion and prejudice, She asked that the government be required to explain the relevance of each photo it submits.

Lead prosecutor Soo Song noted that U.S. District Judge Robert Colville already ruled that graphic photos are admissible. Song also said the photos are necessary to establish that the defendant acted with force and malice, that he used firearms, and to corroborate victim and expert testimony.

“Part of why there are so many images is the defendant killed 11 people,” she said.

Prosecutors asked the court to affirm its earlier ruling.

Julia Zenkevich reports on Allegheny County government for 90.5 WESA. She first joined the station as a production assistant on The Confluence, and more recently served as a fill-in producer for The Confluence and Morning Edition. She’s a life-long Pittsburgher, and attended the University of Pittsburgh. She can be reached at