By Chriss Swaney and Jessica Resnick-Ault
PITTSBURGH (Reuters) – Shackled and in a wheelchair, the man accused of shooting 11 worshipers to death at a Pittsburgh synagogue made a stony-faced and largely silent appearance on Monday in a federal courtroom, where he was ordered held without bond for the deadliest attack ever on America’s Jewish community.
Robert Bowers, 46, who was wounded in a gunfight with police at the synagogue on Saturday, acknowledged the 29 charges against him, which could lead to his execution if found guilty.
Bowers, who has a history of posting anti-Semitic material online, will get a court-appointed attorney and was remanded to custody of U.S. marshals. His next hearing is set for Thursday.
“Robert Bowers murdered 11 people who were exercising their religious beliefs,” U.S. Attorney Scott Brady said after the arraignment, adding that a grand jury would hear details of the crime within 30 days.
The synagogue massacre has heightened debate over the rhetoric U.S. President Donald Trump uses with critics saying it has encouraged right-wing extremism, which the administration rejects. But a group of Jewish leaders told Trump in an open letter that he was “not welcome in Pittsburgh until you fully denounce white nationalism.”
Despite that, Trump and his wife, Melania, will travel to Pennsylvania on Tuesday to “express the support of the American people and grieve with the Pittsburgh community,” White House press secretary Sarah Sanders said at a briefing.
Bowers’ arraignment was marked by a heavy security presence that included police officers with dogs and a team of sharpshooters at the federal court in Pittsburgh.
Wearing a blue sweatshirt, gray sweatpants, sandals and white socks, with a crewcut and bald spot, Bowers remained expressionless throughout the short hearing.
The charges against him include violation of U.S. civil rights laws in what federal prosecutors say was a hate crime.
Bowers only spoke during the hearing to give his name, state that he understood the charges against him and to say that he lacked the funds to pay for an attorney to represent him.
He spoke in a calm voice and signed the papers handed to him with a steady hand.
Only at the end of the hearing when he was wheeled out of the courtroom did Bowers appear unsettled, turning his head in apparent confusion.
(Reporting by Jessica Resnick-Ault; Writing by Steve Gorman and Nick Zieminski; Editing by Daniel Wallis and Bill Trott)