Robert Bowers pleads not guilty in Tree of Life synagogue shooting, requests jury trial in federal court

A 44-count indictment was filed against Bowers on Wednesday.

11 people were fatally shot at Tree of Life synagogue on Oct. 27, 2018.

11 people were fatally shot at Tree of Life synagogue on Oct. 27, 2018.


Update 11:31 a.m. 

Robert Bowers this morning entered a not guilty plea in federal court and requested a jury trial on charges that he carried an AR-15 and three handguns into the Tree of Life synagogue in Squirrel Hill on Saturday and opened fire.

Eleven people died. Six more were injured. It’s been called the deadliest attack on the Jewish community in U.S. history.

For the second time in four days, Bowers, 46, of Baldwin appeared shackled in the Joseph F. Weis Federal Courthouse, Downtown — this time just after 10 a.m. for a formal arraignment on a 44-count grand jury indictment.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Soo C. Song read the indictment to Bowers before U.S. Magistrate Judge Robert C. Mitchell, and Assistant U.S. Attorney Troy Rivetti informed Bowers of the potential penalties, including death.

Bowers leaned forward to listen and looked toward Rivetti.

Asked if he understood the potential penalties, Bowers said yes, emphatically.

Mitchell granted a 45-day pretrial motion period.

“We are still investigating a crime and will meet with defense in a few days to provide [evidentiary] materials,” Rivetti told Mitchell.

After the hearing, Margaret Philbin, a spokesperson for federal prosecutors with the United States Attorney’s Office for the Western District of Pennsylvania, said this would happen within five days.

At a court hearing Monday, Bowers requested public defenders. Attorneys Michael Novara and Elisa Long are representing him.

Donetta W. Ambrose, a senior district judge, will oversee the case.

Rivetti estimated a trial would last three to four weeks unless Attorney General Jeff Sessions approves it as a capital case, then it would last longer.

Approached after the hearing, Novara declined comment. Prosecutors also declined to comment. There will be no additional comments from investigators or authorities today, Philbin said.

The hearing was over by 10:15 a.m.

During an initial court appearance Monday, Bowers was in a wheelchair. Today, he walked into court, shackled and wearing a red jumpsuit and a large bandage on his left arm. After the shooting, Bowers had been treated at Allegheny General Hospital for gunshot wounds.

He glanced around the room while walking toward his attorneys, with whom he shook hands, was unshackled at the table, and appeared to review court documents.

He spoke only with his attorneys and when addressed by the court.

Federal prosecutors claim Bowers targeted Jewish victims and made statements in the synagogue “indicating his desire to ‘kill Jews.’” Thirty-two counts in the indictment are punishable by death.

He was arraigned in federal court Monday on 29 charges filed by complaint. At that initial appearance, he was ordered held without bail. He’s being housed in the Butler County Prison.

Bowers 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.

Three more funerals are planned for today. Visitation for spouses Bernice Simon, 84, and Sylvan Simon, 86, of Wilkinsburg began at 11 a.m., with a funeral to follow. The funeral for Dr. Richard Gottfried, 65, of Ross Township is set for 4 p.m. today.

Seven shooting victims — Joyce Fienberg, 75; Dr. Jerry Rabinowitz, 66; brothers Cecil, 59, and David Rosenthal, 54; Daniel Stein, 71; Melvin Wax, 87; and Irving Younger, 69 — have already been buried.

Rose Mallinger, 97, will be buried Friday.