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Pittsburgh synagogue shooting trial could move into next phase this week

The Tree of Life synagogue building in Squirrel Hill.
Katie Blackley
90.5 WESA

An expert witness for the prosecution in the Pittsburgh synagogue shooting trial will resume his testimony Monday. Forensic psychiatrist Dr. Park Dietz began to testify on Thursday and is expected to be the last witness before the jury determines if defendant Robert Bowers is eligible for the death penalty.

Bowers was found guilty of killing 11 Jewish worshipers and injuring 6 other people at the Tree of Life Synagogue in 2018. He could receive the death penalty, but first the jury must find that he acted with intent to kill, as defined by the law, to justify consideration of capital punishment.

His defense attorneys have argued that Bowers has schizophrenia, epilepsy and other brain dysfunctions that made it impossible for him to form the intent to kill required under the law.

Dietz and other expert witnesses for the prosecution said they disagree with those findings. Dietz testified last week that he spent about 15 hours interviewing Bowers and found him to be “remarkably normal.” He testified that Bowers does not suffer from delusions and had the capacity to plan, premeditate and intentionally kill.

According to Dietz, Bowers’ problems stem from maladaptation to childhood, not mental illness. Dietz diagnosed Bowers with schizoid personality disorder, a maladaptive, learned behavior — not a mental illness.

Dietz is expected to finish testimony early this week. Lawyers for the defense and prosecution will then make closing arguments. If jurors unanimously find that Bowers acted with intent, they will then decide if Bowers should be sentenced to death.

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