A federal judge in Pittsburgh sentenced Robert Bowers to death on Tuesday for the 2018 massacre at the Tree of Life synagogue, in which he killed 11 worshippers and injured six others.
Bowers, 49, pleaded guilty to all 63 charges against him in October 2018, including 11 counts of murder and 11 counts of hate crimes. He was eligible for the death penalty because of the number of people he killed and the hate-motivated nature of the crime.
“This was a hate crime, plain and simple,” said U.S. District Judge Donetta Ambrose in her sentencing remarks. “It was an act of terrorism, perpetrated against a group of people who were simply gathered to worship their God.”
The massacre at Tree of Life was the deadliest attack on Jews in the United States since the 1993 bombing of the World Trade Center. It also came amid a wave of anti-Semitic violence in the United States, which has been fueled by white nationalism and other forms of extremism.
In her sentencing remarks, Ambrose said that Bowers’ actions had “sent a shockwave of fear and terror throughout the Jewish community and throughout the country.” She said that the death penalty was the only appropriate sentence for Bowers’ crimes.
“This was a cold-blooded, calculated act of hate,” Ambrose said. “It was an act of evil.”
Bowers’ lawyers had argued that he should be sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole, saying that he was mentally ill and that he had expressed remorse for his actions. However, Ambrose rejected those arguments, saying that Bowers was “fully aware of what he was doing” when he opened fire at Tree of Life.
“This was not an act of passion,” Ambrose said. “This was an act of hate.”
Bowers’ death sentence is the first federal death sentence in Pennsylvania since 2011. It is also the first federal death sentence for a hate crime.
The sentencing of Robert Bowers is a significant moment in the fight against anti-Semitism and hate crimes in the United States. It sends a message that such acts will not be tolerated and that those who commit them will be held accountable.