New hate crime and firearms charges filed against accused Tree of Life gunman

United States Attorney Scott W. Brady announced the additional charges today.

Mourners visit Tree of Life on Monday, Oct. 29, 2018.

Mourners visit Tree of Life on Monday, Oct. 29, 2018.

Cara Owsley / USA TODAY Network
MJ Slaby

A federal grand jury has added 19 charges against Robert Bowers, the suspected Tree of Life gunman, bringing the total number of federal charges up to 63 counts.

A grand jury indictment, filed Oct. 31, originally charged Bowers with 44 counts. On Wednesday, United States Attorney Scott W. Brady announced the additional charges that include 13 violations of the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act and six corresponding counts for discharging a firearm during those crimes.

Per the superseding indictment, the grand jury alleges that Bowers drove to the Tree of Life synagogue on Oct. 27, entered the building with multiple firearms and opened fire, killing 11 people and injuring six others. The injured included four responding police officers. Twelve congregants managed to escape without physical injury.

Bowers caused bodily injury to the 11 people killed and two surviving victims because of their “actual and perceived religion,” according to the superseding indictment. The new filing also points out that on Oct. 10 Bowers posted statements critical of the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society and its affiliated congregations on Gab. Those congregations include Dor Hadash, which meets at Tree of Life.

The charges in the superseding indictment are:

  • 11 counts of obstruction of free exercise of religious beliefs resulting in death
  • 11 counts of hate crimes resulting in death
  • 2 counts of obstruction of free exercise of religious beliefs involving an attempt to kill and use of a dangerous weapon and resulting in bodily injury
  • 2 counts of hate crimes involving an attempt to kill
  • 8 counts of obstruction of free exercise of religious beliefs involving an attempt to kill and use of a dangerous weapon, and resulting in bodily injury to public safety officers
  • 4 counts of obstruction of free exercise of religious beliefs involving use of a dangerous weapon and resulting in bodily injury to public safety officers
  • 25 counts of discharge of a firearm during these crimes of violence

Twenty-two counts in the new indictment are capital offenses and the decision to pursue the death penalty at trial rests with the U.S. Attorney General. Otherwise, Bowers faces a maximum of life without parole, followed by 250 years of consecutive imprisonment, according to the press release from Brady’s office.

In late December, Judy Clarke, a high-profile defense attorney and death penalty expert who has represented notorious criminals like Boston Marathon Bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, joined Bowers’ defense team.

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.

Read the full superseding federal indictment here: