The trial of the alleged perpetrator of a 2018 attack on a synagogue in Pittsburgh, the deadliest against Jews in the history of the United States and for which he faces the death penalty, opened Tuesday, May 30 in the midst of a surge of anti-Semitic acts in this country.
Jury selection in federal court in Pennsylvania (Northeast) began on April 24 for a period of four weeks and the trial began in earnest Tuesday to try Robert Bowers, 50, prosecuted on 63 counts.
'All Jews must die'
This white truck driver who first pleaded "not guilty" (before his lawyers offered in vain to plead "guilty" in exchange for the guarantee that he would not be sentenced to death) is accused in particular of having perpetrated eleven murders aggravated by the qualification of anti-Semitic act. "The extent of the malevolence and hatred of the accused can be seen on the broken bodies" of the victims, thundered Assistant Federal Attorney so C. Song in her first speech, according to the US judicial press.
On October 27, 2018, Bowers burst into the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh, armed with three pistols and a semi-automatic assault rifle. Shouting "all Jews must die," he opened fire and killed 11 people, including a 97-year-old worshipper, in the middle of a Shabbat ceremony in a historic Jewish neighborhood in Pittsburgh, committing the bloodiest attack on Jews in the United States.
Debate on the death penalty
Before that, he posted racist, anti-Semitic and anti-immigrant messages on a far-right social network. Then-Republican President Donald Trump had called for the death penalty for Robert Bowers, a request followed by the Justice Department and confirmed after Democratic President Joe Biden's term began on January 20, 2021.
But while candidate Biden had pledged in 2020 to abolish the death penalty at the national level, this trial revives in the United States the debates around this supreme punishment still practiced in many American states. As early as 2019, the federal prosecutor in Pittsburgh had indicated that he would seek the death penalty for Robert Bowers, citing his "lack of remorse" and "hatred and contempt" for Jews.
Increase in anti-Semitic acts
His lawyer Judy Clarke acknowledged from the outset that his client was indeed the man who had shot Jews. "There is no point in looking for meaning in a senseless act," she argued, seeking above all to save Bowers' life rather than plead his innocence. The trial, which is expected to last until July, is taking place against the backdrop of a surge in racist and anti-Semitic acts in the United States, which have reached the highest level in 30 years, according to statistics from the federal police, the FBI, cited in April by the Washington Post.
According to the American organization for the fight against anti-Semitism Anti Defamation League, the country had experienced in 2021 a record number of 2717 anti-Semitic acts (aggression, verbal attacks, material damage ...), an increase of 34% over one year. In 2022, this association counted 3697 anti-Semitic acts (+36% over one year), unseen since 1979, according to the Washington Post.