By Chriss Swaney
PITTSBURGH (Reuters) – The man charged with opening fire in a Pittsburgh synagogue and killing 11 worshipers pleaded not guilty on Thursday in federal court to all 44 counts against him, including hate crimes and firearms offenses.
Robert Bowers, 46, an avowed anti-Semite, appeared defiant and determined in court. Dressed in a red jumpsuit and with a bandaged left arm, he walked into the courtroom with what appeared to be a swagger.
He spoke little, other than to say he understood the charges against him, and that some of them could result in the death penalty, followed by entering a plea of “not guilty.”
Bowers was injured during a shootout with police during the massacre at the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh’s Squirrel Hill neighborhood in what is believed to be the worst anti-Semitic attack in U.S. history. He had appeared in court on Monday shackled to a wheelchair.
His appearance in court on Thursday came as funerals for three more victims were planned during the day.
Funerals will be held for Sylvan Simon, 86, his wife, Bernice, 84, and for Richard Gottfried, 65.
Prosecutors have said they will seek the death penalty against Bowers.
He is accused of bursting into the synagogue and opening fire with a semi-automatic rifle and three pistols in the midst of the Sabbath prayer service as he shouted “All Jews must die.”
Six people, including four police officers, were wounded before the suspect was shot by police and surrendered.
The attack, following a wave of pipe bombs mailed to prominent Democrats and other Trump critics, has heightened national tensions days ahead of U.S. congressional elections on Tuesday that will decide whether U.S. President Donald Trump loses the Republican majority he now enjoys in the Senate and House.
The Pittsburgh massacre also has fueled a debate over Trump’s rhetoric and his self-identification as a “nationalist,” which critics say has led to a surge in right-wing extremism and may have helped provoke the synagogue bloodshed.
The Trump administration has rejected the notion that he has encouraged white nationalists and neo-Nazis who have embraced him, insisting he is trying to unify Americans, even as he continues to disparage the media as an “enemy of the people.”
(Reporting by Brendan O’Brien in Milwaukee; Editing by Larry King and Jeffrey Benkoe)