Updated 10:47 a.m.
The accused gunman in the Tree of Life shooting massacre did not appear in federal court this morning when his attorneys asked for more time to prepare their defense.
U.S. Senior District Judge Donetta Ambrose granted an extension for Robert Bowers’ attorneys to file a pre-trial motion, which they now must do by April 18, during a status conference that lasted less than 10 minutes at the Joseph F. Weis Federal Courthouse, Downtown.
Bowers, 46, of Baldwin, is charged with carrying an AR-15 and three handguns into Tree of Life on Oct. 27 and opening fire, killing 11 people and injuring six others. He is being held without bond at the Butler County Prison and waived his right to appear today. His defense team did not comment on Bowers’ condition.
Attorneys Michael Novara and Elisa Long, who are representing Bowers, have received two sets of discovery and met with prosecutors twice, Long said. Ambrose stressed that she wants to know about any issues the lawyers have with discovery to keep things as efficient and cost-effective as possible.
Assistant U.S. Attorneys Soo C. Song and Troy Rivetti were joined today by Julie Geghemier, a Department of Justice attorney based in D.C.
Bowers faces 44 federal charges and 32 of those are punishable by death. The case is considered a hate crime, and federal prosecutors claim Bowers targeted Jewish victims and made statements in the synagogue “indicating his desire to ‘kill Jews.'” It’s been called the deadliest attack on the Jewish community in U.S. history.
He was last in federal court on Nov. 1 for a formal arraignment. Bowers then entered a not guilty plea and requested a jury trial. He said then that he understood the potential penalties, including death.
U.S. Attorney for the Western District of Pennsylvania Scott Brady started the process to pursue the death penalty, however, whether or not this is a capital case is a decision that ultimately rests with the U.S. Attorney General. Although no decision has been announced, experts agreed that it’s likely the case against Bowers will be a capital case.
A decision on the death penalty has to come before a trial can start since a capital case would impact lawyer preparation and jury selection.
Ambrose said today that she will set monthly status hearings starting in February and wants Bowers to be asked each time if he wants to appear. She said she expects to hear more after today about whether this will be a capital case.
He has also been charged at the state level with 11 counts of homicide, 6 counts of criminal attempt, 6 counts of aggravated assault, and 13 counts of ethnic intimidation, a first-degree felony, “based on what Bowers described himself as his hatred for ‘Jews,'” per a criminal complaint filed by Pittsburgh Police.
Eleven people were killed in the shooting: Joyce Fienberg, 75, of Oakland; Richard Gottfried, 65, of Ross Township; Rose Mallinger, 97, of Squirrel Hill; Jerry Rabinowitz, 66, of Edgewood; Cecil Rosenthal, 59, of Squirrel Hill; David Rosenthal, 54, of Squirrel Hill; Bernice Simon, 84, of Wilkinsburg; Sylvan Simon, 86, of Wilkinsburg; Daniel Stein, 71, of Squirrel Hill; Melvin Wax, 87, of Squirrel Hill; and Irving Younger, 69, of Mt. Washington.