Accused Synagogue Shooter Pleads Not Guilty In Federal Court

Nov 1, 2018

Robert Bowers pleaded “not guilty” Thursday morning to charges stemming from the fatal shooting of 11 Jewish congregants at Tree of Life synagogue on Saturday. The case will now proceed to a jury trial.

In the meantime, the alleged shooter is being held behind bars without the possibility of bail.

Bowers, 46, faces 44 federal counts stemming from last weekend’s mass shooting at the Squirrel Hill house of worship. Those charges were presented by Assistant United States Attorneys Troy Rivetta and Soo Song in a proceeding that lasted less than 10 minutes.

Rivetti faced Bowers as he read the possible penalties, which included capital punishment. Wearing a red jumpsuit, Bowers did not make eye contact with Rivetti, but appeared to listen intently, showing little reaction until saying that he understood the penalty against him.

Bowers was led from the courtroom in handcuffs and shackles moments later. Federal magistrate judge Robert Mitchell assigned the case to federal Judge Donetta Ambrose.

A federal grand jury indicted the suspect on 44 counts Wednesday. The charges include firearms-related offenses and 11 counts of fatally preventing the exercise of religious belief -- one for each of the victims who were killed.

They also include 10 counts of obstructing the free exercise of religion through attempted homicide. Those charges applied to eight congregants, two of whom were injured. Four police officers were also wounded when they rushed to the scene of the shooting.

Bowers also faces prosecution at the state level. The Allegheny County District Attorney's office filed charges that include multiple counts of homicide, aggravated assault and ethnic intimidation.

The District Attorney’s office will suspend its prosecution while the federal government pursues its case. District Attorney Stephen Zappala said in a statement Tuesday that the FBI and U.S. Department of Justice had taken the lead in investigating the attack.

“It is prudent to allow this case to proceed at the federal level at this time,” Zappala said. He added that his office, nonetheless, is “confident” it could move forward with its prosecution.