Some Pittsburgh Jews Are Upset by Decision to Seek Death Penalty for Synagogue Shooter

A Pittsburgh police officer patrols around the Tree of Life Synagogue and a memorial of flowers and Stars of David in Pittsburgh on Oct. 28, 2018, in remembrance of those killed and injured when a shooter opened fire during services at the synagogue. (AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar)

Two of the three congregations that met inside the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh said they were saddened and disappointed with the news that federal prosecutors plan to seek the death penalty against a man accused of killing 11 Jews at their place of worship last year.

Leaders of both the New Light and Dor Hadash congregations had written to Attorney General William Barr to beg him not to pursue capital punishment for Robert Bowers. Four of the 11 people killed in the massacre, considered the deadliest attack on Jews in U.S. history, were members of those congregations.

But on Monday (Aug. 26), five federal lawyers filed a motion in the United States District Court for the Western District of Pennsylvania, saying Bowers’ alleged crimes justify a death penalty sentence. They cited five reasons, including Bowers’ lack of remorse, his religious animus toward Judaism and Jews and his substantial planning and premeditation.

Rabbi Jonathan Perlman of New Light Congregation vowed Tuesday to continue to fight the death penalty, which he believes is contrary to Jewish teachings. He also said it would re-traumatize the survivors of the Oct. 27 massacre.

Perlman said he thought prosecutors were trying to curry favor with the Jewish community by seeking the death penalty.

“But what the administration needs to understand is that if they took a poll of the Jewish community they would find out Jews are very much opposed to this for religious reasons,” he said.

Congregation Dor Hadash posted a statement on its website saying it would have preferred a plea deal that would have allowed the gunman to serve a sentence of life in prison without parole.

A life sentence, the statement said, would have “honored the memory of Dor Hadash congregant Dr. Jerry Rabinowitz, who was firmly and unequivocally opposed to the death penalty.”

Rabinowitz, 66, a beloved family physician, was killed in the shooting.

The third congregation meeting in the building issued a statement saying: “Tree of Life*Or L’Simcha does not have a statement on this matter; we have confidence that justice will be served.”

Seven of the victims were from the Tree of Life congregation. The shuttered synagogue is in Pittsburgh’s historic Squirrel Hill neighborhood.

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Source: Religion News Service