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Judge Waits To Set Trial Date In Pittsburgh Synagogue Attack

Katie Blackley
90.5 WESA

The accused Tree of Life synagogue shooter will not go on trial before October 2020. U.S. District Judge Donnetta Ambrose said Thursday that proceedings will start sometime after the Jewish high holidays next fall.


Robert Bowers is charged with killing 11 people inside the Tree of Life synagogue last October.


At a status conference in his case Thursday, Ambrose said two of the three congregations that worshipped at Tree of Life want to delay his trial until after the holidays. The judge said Congregation Dor Hadash and New Light Congregation made their requests in letters to her and to attorneys in the case.


Jon Pushinsky, of Congregation Dor Hadash, said after Thursday’s status conference that the holidays are a time for introspection.


“And a trial at that time would have been very disruptive to the congregation and its members and perhaps to the wider Jewish community as a whole,” he said.


Donna Coufal, also of Congregation Dor Hadash, said that waiting until after the holidays will allow her and other worshippers to attend more proceedings.


“I think we’re bearing witness to this entire process,” Coufal said outside the federal courthouse in downtown Pittsburgh, “and that it’s important for us to see and be seen all through this difficult journey.”


Prosecutors had proposed an earlier trial date, in September 2020. They said they wanted to spare victims from unreasonable delay and that only jury selection – and not the trial itself – was likely to coincide with the holidays under the government's suggested timing.


Judge Ambrose said there are many "weighty" issues to be resolved before trial and that it’s too early to commit to a precise date.


She said she will not schedule Bowers' trial until pretrial motions over the death penalty and other issues are resolved.


The judge is giving defense lawyers until mid-December to file motions challenging the constitutionality of the death penalty sought by prosecutors.


The October 27, 2018, shooting at the Tree of Life synagogue is considered the deadliest attack on Jews in U.S. history.


The Associated Press contributed to this report.