Defense attorneys for the suspect in the Pittsburgh synagogue massacre entered a plea of not guilty Thursday to federal charges and requested a jury trial.
Robert Bowers, 46, walked into court in wrist, waist and ankle restraints Thursday, with a large bandage on his upper left arm. He suffered multiple gunshot wounds during a shootout with police and was released from the hospital three days ago.
Thursday marked his second court appearance this week after a federal grand jury indicted him on 44 federal charges in last weekend’s slaying of 11 worshippers at the Tree of Life synagogue.
During the arraignment, Bowers watched prosecutors and nodded periodically. He responded “yes” that he understood the penalties of the charges, and his public defender, Michael J. Novara, entered a plea of not guilty, “as is typical,” he said.
Of the 44 charges, 32 counts are punishable by death, a grand jury filing released Wednesday said.
The court hearing comes the same day that crowds of mourners will lay more victims to rest and as their memorials continue to grow.
On Monday, Bowers had been brought to the courtroom in a wheelchair and only spoke to answer the judge’s questions. Bowers was appointed a local public defender Wednesday.
He is being held at the Butler County Jail without bond.
Suspect indicted in federal crimes
“Today begins the process of seeking justice for the victims of these hateful acts, and healing for the victims’ families, the Jewish community, and our city,” US Attorney Scott Brady said in a statement.
Bowers is charged with 11 counts each of obstruction of the free exercise of religious beliefs resulting in death and use of a firearm to commit murder during a crime of violence, a conviction on any of which could be punishable by death, according to the indictment.
He faces 10 other potential death penalty charges, according to the federal indictment:
- Two counts of obstruction of the free exercise of religious beliefs involving an attempt to kill and use of a dangerous weapon, resulting in bodily injury;
- Eight counts of obstruction of the free exercise of religious beliefs involving an attempt to kill and use of a dangerous weapon, resulting in bodily injury to a public safety officer.
The remaining charges are use of a firearm during a crime of violence (two counts), possession of a firearm in furtherance of a crime of violence (nine counts) and obstruction of the free exercise of religious beliefs involving use of a dangerous weapon and resulting in bodily injury to a public safety officer (one count).
“Every American has the right to attend their house of worship in safety,” Attorney General Jeff Sessions said in a statement announcing the indictment. “These alleged crimes are incomprehensibly evil and utterly repugnant to the values of this nation. Therefore this case is not only important to the victims and their loved ones, but to the city of Pittsburgh and the entire nation.”