The federal trial of the gunman who killed 11 worshipers at a Pittsburgh synagogue, the deadliest antisemitic attack in U.S. history, began on Tuesday with a minute-by-minute description of how the massacre unfolded in 2018. Before a packed courtroom, including several people who were shot in the synagogue that day, prosecutors detailed when, where and how each victim was killed. Harrowing 911 calls were played, with the courtroom echoing with pleas for help from Bernice Simon, 84, who was shot along with her husband in the same sanctuary where they were married more than 60 years earlier, reports the New York Times. Jeffrey Myers, the rabbi of the Tree of Life congregation, recounted whispering what he thought would be his final prayers in a bathroom next to the choir loft as he heard gunfire and screaming below.
The government is seeking the death penalty for gunman Robert Bowers. The trial is a monthslong hearing to decide whether he should face execution. The facts are mostly undisputed. Judy Clarke, a lawyer for Bowers, 50, said there was “no disagreement” that he killed 11 congregants, adding that he had caused “extraordinary harm to many, many people.” Before the jury can consider the death penalty, it must decide whether Bowers is guilty. He is facing 63 federal charges, including 11 counts of hate crimes resulting in death and 11 counts of obstruction of free exercise of religious beliefs resulting in death. Bowers’s lawyers have offered to resolve the case with guilty pleas on all counts, in exchange for a sentence of life in prison without the possibility of release, but federal prosecutors rejected these offers.