Robert Bowers, the man charged in the deadliest antisemitic attack in U.S. history, tried for years to avoid a federal jury trial that would decide whether to convict him of shooting to death 11 people in a Pittsburgh synagogue. Ultimately those efforts failed, and jury selection is less than two weeks away, the Associated Press reports. Court filings show Bowers, 46, offered to plead guilty in the 2018 attack on the Tree of Life synagogue, a crime for which he was arrested at the scene and made incriminating statements to police. He indicated he was willing to accept life without parole and not file an appeal. His offer came with a condition that the U.S. Justice Department declined: In return for a guilty plea, he would no longer face the death penalty. Much of the legal battling that has stretched on for more than four years has anticipated the critical sentencing phase after the guilt-or-innocence portion of the trial is over. The families of some victims have endorsed the idea of life without parole, which would avoid days of painful testimony and the grisly details of autopsy results, crime scene photos and 911 recordings, including calls from two of those slain.
In the end, DOJ said no to Bowers’ offer and flatly declined his lawyers’ request for details about the secretive process by which federal death penalty decisions are made. “It will be the jury’s ultimate decision whether to impose the death penalty — not the government’s,” federal prosecutors told U.S. District Judge Robert Colville this month. “The United States’ ‘goal’ in this prosecution is the pursuit of justice, not punishment.” Bowers’ lawyers wrote that the federal death penalty lacks “a discernable, principled basis for why the Department of Justice continues to pursue death sentences for Mr. Bowers but not in very recent comparable cases.” The 2019 announcement that the federal government would pursue the death penalty against Bowers was opposed by some of those directly affected by the killings. One of the three congregations he’s charged with attacking — Dor Hadash — put objections in writing. A month after taking office, Pennsylvania Gov. Josh Shapiro cited those objections as one reason he would keep the state’s moratorium on the death penalty. He urged state lawmakers to end the state’s death penalty.