Robert Bowers is accused of shouting anti-semitic epithets during the Pittsburgh synagogue shooting. Neighbors describe the 46-year-old as “unremarkably normal.”
Wearing a red jumpsuit and a bandage on his left arm, the suspect in the Pittsburgh synagogue shooting rampage that left 11 people dead pleaded not guilty Thursday in a brief arraignment in federal court where prosecutors emphasized he faces the possibility of the death penalty.
Robert Bowers, 46, is accused of the heinous killings in a 44-count indictment that includes charges of hate crimes.
Authorities say a heavily armed Bowers walked into the Tree of Life Synagogue in the city’s affluent Squirrel Hill neighborhood Saturday morning as services were beginning. He shouted anti-Semitic epithets and started shooting.
As in his first court appearance Wednesday, Bowers pleaded not guilty and requested a jury trial. This time, however, Bowers – who was shot and wounded in a gunbattle that left four police officers injured – walked into court, without the aid of a wheelchair.
Unshackled, the stocky truck driver shook hands with his attorney and appeared to be looking at the indictment. He glanced around the room while walking to the table but said nothing.
As proceedings opened, Bowers frowned as the charges were read but did not appear to react as U.S. Attorney Troy Rivetti announced he could face a death sentence.
He told the prosecutor that he had read the indictment and, when asked if he understood the charges, said “Yes!” in a loud voice.
During the brief court appearance, U.S. District Court Magistrate Judge Robert Mitchell also granted a 45-day pretrial motion period.
Rivetti estimated that the trial would likely last three to four weeks unless Attorney General Jeff Sessions certifies it as a capital case, which would make it longer.
In addition to those killed, two in the synagogue were wounded. Police arrived, and four officers and Bowers were wounded in a massacre.
Funerals were planned Thursday for Bernice and Sylvan Simon, husband and wife, and Dr. Richard Gottfried, a dentist who worked part time at a clinic treating refugees and immigrants. The oldest victim, 97-year-old Rose Mallinger, will be honored at a service Friday. Her daughter was injured in the attack.
Bowers was released from the hospital hours before his first court appearance Monday. He was being held without bail for the deadliest attack against the Jewish community in U.S. history.
U.S. Attorney Scott Brady has said he is seeking the approval of Attorney General Jeff Sessions to pursue a death penalty case against Bowers.
On Tuesday, President Donald Trump visited the city and was met by hundreds of protesters. The president honored a Jewish custom by placing stones on memorials outside the synagogue. Inside, the president and the first lady, Melania Trump, lit candles in honor of each of the dead, the White House said.
Contributing: Colin Deppen for The Incline. The publication is a USA TODAY content partner. Its content is produced independently of the USA TODAY Network.
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