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Jury weighs death sentence in Pittsburgh synagogue shooting trial

An-Li Herring
90.5 WESA

The sentencing phase continues Monday in the trial of the man convicted of killing 11 Jewish worshippers at the Tree of Life synagogue in 2018. Jurors are tasked with determining whether or not defendant Robert Bowers will be sentenced to death.

The same federal jury previously found Bowers guilty on 63 federal counts, including murder and hate crime charges. Of those, 22 qualify for capital punishment. Earlier this month, they found Bowers eligible for the death penalty.

Relatives of victims killed in the attack testified about the devastating impact of losing their family members. That’s one of nine aggravating factors prosecutors argue should push the jury to give Bowers the death penalty.

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Bernice Simon was killed in the attack. Her daughter told jurors that the family doesn't get together to celebrate holidays anymore, because her mother was the glue that kept them together.

Dan Leger, the last witness called by prosecutors, was shot during the crime. He previously told the jury about lying on a stairway for 45 minutes unable to move but sure he was going to die. He detailed his extensive injuries and ongoing recovery process and noted that his life was irrevocably changed by the attack.

Bowers’ defense attorneys say he grew up in an unstable, violent and abusive household. They argue because of that, coupled with a family history of mental illness and abuse, the jury should sentence Bowers to life in prison instead of death.

The jury must find unanimously that the aggravating evidence outweighs the mitigating evidence. If Bowers does not receive the death penalty, he’ll be sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of release.

The penalty phase of the trial is expected to continue through at least this week.

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