Jewish congregations oppose death penalty for Pittsburgh synagogue shooter

By agency reporter
September 3, 2019

Members of the two Synagogue congregations that were targeted in the worst anti-Semitic shooting in US history are asking that the killer be spared the death penalty, and instead be sentenced to life in prison.

Eleven people from the Dor Hadash and The New Light congregations were killed when Robert D Bowers, armed with an automatic weapon burst into The Tree of Life Congregation Synagogue in Pittsburgh, Pensylvania, at 9.30am on 27 October 2018.

Bowers is reported to have shouted anti-Semitic slogans as he he fired at the congregation. He is alleged to be linked to a far right social media site which hosts racist and anti-Semitic content.

Federal prosecutors are calling for the death penalty for Bowers, because of his "lack of remorse", after he "targeted men and women participating in Jewish religious worship."

Attorney General William Barr, who is a Catholic, announced the reinstatement of capital punishment for federal prisoners just over a month ago. Rabbi Jonathan Perlman of New Light, who survived the attack, said the death penalty was an "outmoded kind of punishment." He has appealed to Mr Barr's Catholic faith by reminding him that "recent popes and bishops have spoken out against the death penalty."

In a letter to Barr, the Rabbi describes capital punishment as a "cruel form of justice," stating that both his religion and that of the shooter have traditions that stand firmly against the death penalty. He went on: "a drawn out and difficult death penalty trial would be a disaster with witnesses and attorneys dredging up horrifying drama and giving this killer the media attention he does not deserve."

Donna Coufal, President of the Dor Hadash congregation, also wrote to Mr Barr to ask that the killer receive a life sentence rather than the death penalty, reiterating Rabbi Perlman's comments on the impact of a prolonged and painful trial.

Mrs Rabinowitz whose husband Jerry, a much-loved community doctor, was killed in the shooting, said killing the man who murdered her husband would be a "cruel and bitter irony," as he himself so strongly opposed the death penalty. She said it would make no sense to her.

"Like slavery, this is something that belongs to another time and another place", he said. "I can't think of any worse punishment for a criminal than to spend the rest of his life in a maximum-security prison without parole."

In a statement on its website, Dor Hadash said: "Today, we are saddened and disappointed to learn that Attorney General Barr will pursue a trial and seek the death penalty for the perpetrator of the attack on October 27, 2018.

"Earlier this month, Congregation Dor Hadash sent a letter to Attorney General Barr requesting that both parties agree to a plea bargain for life without parole. A deal would have honoured the memory of Dor Hadash congregant Dr Jerry Rabinowitz, who was firmly and unequivocally opposed to the death penalty. It would have prevented the attacker from getting the attention and publicity that will inevitably come with a trial, and eliminated any possibility of further trauma that could result from a trial and protracted appeals.

"We continue to mourn with our fellow congregants and community members who have lost loved ones and survived unspeakable terror. We continue to reject hatred and all systems of oppression, and follow the tenets of our faith, which teaches us that only through our shared humanity can there be an end to hatred and violence."

* Independent Catholic News https://www.indcatholicnews.com/


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