Grieving families confronted the Pittsburgh synagogue shooter at his sentencing hearing Thursday, one day after a jury determined that capital punishment was appropriate for the perpetrator of the deadliest attack on Jews in U.S. history.
The hearing at the federal courthouse in Pittsburgh got underway, with some 22 witnesses — survivors of the 2018 massacre and relatives of the 11 people who were fatally shot — expected to deliver victim impact statements.
U.S. District Judge Robert Colville was expected to formally sentence Robert Bowers to death later Thursday.
“Mr. Bowers, you met my beloved husband in the kitchen. Your callous disregard for the person he was repulses me,” testified Peg Durachko, wife of 65-year-old Dr. Richard Gottfried, a dentist who was shot and killed. “Your hateful act took my soulmate from me.”
Mark Simon, whose parents, Bernice and Sylvan Simon, were killed in the attack, testified he still has their bloodied prayer shawl. He said he remains haunted by the 911 call placed by his mother, whom Bowers shot while she was on the line.
“My parents died alone, without any living soul to comfort them or to hold their hand in their last moments,” said Simon, condemning “that defendant” as evil and cowardly and urging the judge to show him no mercy.
“You will never be forgiven. Never,” Simon told Bowers.
Bowers, a 50-year-old truck driver from suburban Baldwin, ranted about Jews online before carrying out the attack at Tree of Life synagogue on Oct. 27, 2018. He told police at the scene that “all these Jews must die” and has since expressed pride in the killings.
Jurors were unanimous in finding that Bowers’ attack was motivated by his hatred of Jews, and that he chose Tree of Life for its location in one of the largest and most historic Jewish communities in the nation so he could “maximize the devastation, amplify the harm of his crimes, and instill fear within the local, national, and international Jewish communities.” They also found that Bowers lacked remorse.
The jury rejected defense claims that Bowers has schizophrenia and that his delusions about Jewish people spurred the attack.
Bowers, who was armed with an AR-15 rifle and other weapons, also shot and wounded seven, including five responding police officers.
He was convicted in June of 63 federal counts, including hate crimes resulting in death and obstruction of the free exercise of religion resulting in death.
Oregon is launching a new abortion hotline offering free legal advice to callers, moving to further defend abortion access after the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade last summer and eliminated federal protections for the procedure.
The state’s Department of Justice announced the initiative Monday. It is modeled on similar hotlines launched by the attorneys general of New York and Delaware, as states where abortion remains legal have seen an increase in the number of patients traveling from areas where the procedure has been banned or restricted.
“The Hotline will fill an important need in our state for callers to understand the status of our reproductive health laws, including issues related to abortion access,” Oregon Attorney General Ellen Rosenblum said in a news release. “This is especially important because we share a border with Idaho, which has a near-total abortion ban.”
Abortion remains legal at all stages of pregnancy in Oregon, which has worked with California and Washington to promote the West Coast as a safe haven for the procedure.
People can call the anonymous hotline from any state for free legal advice and receive a call back from a lawyer within 48 hours.
New Mexico’s Supreme Court is considering whether state legislators should have a greater say in the spending more than $1 billion in federal pandemic aid.
Arguments in the case were scheduled for Wednesday morning at the five-seat high court. A bipartisan list of state senators is challenging Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham as she asserts authority over federal pandemic aid approved by President Joe Biden in March.
Lujan Grisham, a Democrat running for reelection in 2022, has used the relief funds to replenish the state unemployment insurance trust, underwrite millions of dollars in sweepstakes prizes for people who got vaccinated, prop up agriculture wages amid a shortage of chile pickers and provide incentives for the unemployed to return to work. Decisions still are pending on more than $1 billion in federal relief for New Mexico.
In a written court briefings, Lujan Grisham said a state Supreme Court decision nearly 50 years ago upheld the governor’s discretion over federal funding at universities and should hold true broadly regarding federal pandemic relief funds.
Republican Senate minority leader Gregory Baca of Belen and Democratic Sen. Jacob Candelaria of Albuquerque initiated efforts to challenge the governor’s spending authority.
Supportive legal briefs have been filed by state Treasurer Tim Eichenberg and four long-serving Democratic senators. Critics of the governor have said she has overstepped her constitutional authority, blocking the Legislature’s representation of diverse views on how to spend the pandemic relief money.
Mississippi judges have the power to delay trials, limit the number of spectators in courtrooms or take other steps to try to slow the spread of COVID-19, the leader of the state Supreme Court says in an emergency order.
Chief Justice Michael Randolph issued the order Thursday in response to the rapid spread of illness caused by highly contagious delta variant of the virus.
Mississippi has one of the lowest COVID-19 vaccination rates in the nation, and the state health officer, Dr. Thomas Dobbs, said Friday that 97% of new cases of COVID-19 in Mississippi are among people who are unvaccinated.
Randolph’s order said judges may postpone jury trials that are scheduled through Sept. 10. In addition to limiting the number of spectators in courtrooms, judges may require people to wear masks and maintain distance between each other. The order encouraged courts to use teleconferencing and videoconferencing, when possible.
Plea hearings in felony cases must still take place in person, but defendants and others in the courtrooms should wear masks and maintain social distancing.
“Any in-person proceedings shall be limited to attorneys, parties, witnesses, security officers, members of the press and other necessary persons, as determined by the trial judge,” Randolph wrote.