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Prosecutors Seek Death Penalty In Pittsburgh Shooting, But It’s Far From Settled

Dave Klug
A courtroom sketch depicts Robert Bowers being brought into court via wheelchair on Monday, Oct. 29, 2018.

The anti-Semitic gunman who allegedly killed 11 and wounded six others in Pittsburgh this weekend is facing 29 federal charges.

22 of them carry a potential death penalty.

But that doesn’t necessarily mean Robert Bowers will be put to death.

Bowers is facing both state and federal charges. It’s unclear when he’ll be arraigned on the state ones, but he already had his first hearing on federal counts.

A spokesman for the Allegheny County District Attorney said it’s still possible Bowers could be prosecuted under state law—District Attorney Stephen Zappala is working with federal officials to figure that out.

Robert Dunham, with Washington DC’s Death Penalty Information Center, said the state versus federal distinction isn’t about severity—just the specifics of the case.

Although Pennsylvania currently has a moratorium on executions, Dunham noted they can still be handed down.

“Prosecutors still are pursuing the death penalty, and death sentences have been imposed,” he said. “It is conceivable that those death sentences will, in time, be carried out.”

Regardless of who prosecutes, Dunham advised they act with care.

“It may well be that pursuing the death penalty is not something that would honor the victims,” he said. “That’s something I think the prosecutors need to be discussing with the religious community in Pittsburgh as a whole.”

Federal prosecutors have said they plan to pursue the death penalty, and US Attorney General Jeff Sessions indicated he may support it.

It’s more common for states to hand down death penalties than the federal government. Right now, there are more than 2,700 inmates facing death on state charges, compared with 62 on federal death row.

There have been only three federal executions since 1963. All were carried out between 2001 and 2003 in Terre Haute, Indiana.