The grieving families of some of the 11 murdered Jewish worshipers killed at Pittsburgh’s Tree of Life synagogue had a chance to confront shooter Robert Bowers during his sentencing hearing Thursday, before a federal judge formally sentenced him to death in accordance with a jury’s recommendation.
The hearing at the federal courthouse in Pittsburgh featured 22 witnesses – survivors of the 2018 massacre and relatives of the 11 people who were fatally shot in what was one of the deadliest antisemitic attacks in U.S. history – who had a chance to deliver victim impact statements.
“Mr. Bowers, you met my beloved husband in the kitchen. Your callous disregard for the person he was repulses me,” testified Peg Durachko, wife of 65-year-old Dr. Richard Gottfried, a dentist who was shot and killed. “Your hateful act took my soulmate from me.”
Mark Simon, whose parents, Bernice and Sylvan Simon, were killed in the attack, testified he still has their bloodied prayer shawl, according to The Associated Press. He said he remains haunted by the 911 call placed by his mother, whom Bowers shot while she was on the line.
“My parents died alone, without any living soul to comfort them or to hold their hand in their last moments,” said Simon, condemning “that defendant” as evil and cowardly and urging the judge to show him no mercy.
“You will never be forgiven. Never,” Simon told Bowers.
Bowers, a 50-year-old truck driver from suburban Baldwin, ranted about Jews online before carrying out the attack at Tree of Life synagogue on Oct. 27, 2018. He told police at the scene that “all these Jews must die,” and has since expressed pride in the killings.
“The evidence in this trial proved that the defendant acted because of White supremacist, antisemitic and bigoted views that are, unfortunately, not original or unique to him,” U.S. Attorney Eric Olshan told reporters Wednesday after the jury voted to put Bowers to death. “Sadly, they are too common.”
Jurors were unanimous in finding that Bowers’ attack was motivated by his hatred of Jews, and that he chose Tree of Life for its location in one of the largest and most historic Jewish communities in the nation so that he could “maximize the devastation, amplify the harm of his crimes, and instill fear within the local, national and international Jewish communities.”
They also found that Bowers lacked remorse.
The jury rejected defense claims that Bowers has schizophrenia and that his delusions about Jewish people spurred the attack. Bowers, who was armed with an AR-15 rifle and other weapons, also shot and wounded seven, including five responding police officers.
He was convicted in June of 63 federal counts, including hate crimes resulting in death and obstruction of the free exercise of religion resulting in death.
“I have nothing specific that I care to say to Mr. Bowers,” Judge Robert Colville said, before issuing the formal sentence. “I am however convinced there is nothing I could say to him that might be meaningful.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.