Pittsburgh synagogue massacre suspect pleads not guilty

Robert Bowers (46) is accused of killing 11 worshippers at Tree of Life centre

 Flowers are placed at the Tree of Life synagogue after a mass shooting at the centre in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, US. Photograph: Jared Wickerham/EPA

Flowers are placed at the Tree of Life synagogue after a mass shooting at the centre in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, US. Photograph: Jared Wickerham/EPA

 

The man charged with opening fire in a Pittsburgh synagogue and killing 11 worshippers pleaded not guilty on Thursday in federal court to all 44 counts against him, including for hate crimes and firearms offences.

Robert Bowers (46), an avowed anti-Semite, appeared defiant in court. Dressed in a red jumpsuit and with a bandaged left arm, he walked into the courtroom confidently.

He spoke little, other than to say he understood the charges against him, and that some of them could result in the death penalty, before entering a plea of “not guilty”.

Mr Bowers was injured in a police shootout during the incident at the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh’s Squirrel Hill neighbourhood, which is believed to have been the worst anti-Semitic attack in US history. He had appeared in court on Monday shackled to a wheelchair.

His appearance in court on Thursday came as funerals for three more victims were due to take place.

Funerals will be held on Thursday for Sylvan Simon (86), his wife Bernice (84), and for Richard Gottfried (65).

Prosecutors have said they will seek the death penalty against Mr Bowers.

He is accused of bursting into the synagogue and opening fire with a semi-automatic rifle and three pistols in the midst of a Sabbath prayer service as he shouted: “All Jews must die.”

Six people, including four police officers, were wounded before the suspect was shot by police and surrendered.

Pipe bombs

The attack, which followed a wave of pipe bombs mailed to prominent Democrats and other Trump critics, has heightened national tensions days ahead of US congressional elections on Tuesday that will decide whether US president Donald Trump loses the Republican majority he now enjoys in the Senate and House.

The Pittsburgh massacre also has fuelled a debate over Mr Trump’s rhetoric and his self-identification as a “nationalist”, which critics say has led to a surge in right-wing extremism and may have helped provoke the synagogue bloodshed.

The Trump administration has rejected the notion that the president has encouraged white nationalists and neo-Nazis, insisting he is trying to unify Americans, even as he continues to disparage the media as an “enemy of the people”. – Reuters