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Jewish leaders oppose death penalty for Tree of Life shooter

The members of the congregations that were targeted in the worst anti-Semitic attack in US history are asking that the shooter not get the death penalty, but rather be sentenced to life in prison.

By Francesca Merlo

11 people were killed in the attack on “The Tree of life Congregation” Synagogue in Pittsburgh in 2018 and the 46 year-old shooter is now facing the possibility of receiving the death penalty.

Federal prosecutors cite Robert D Bowers’ “lack of remorse”, after he “targeted men and women participating in Jewish religious worship” .

What form does justice take

The Us Department of Justice claims the attacker’s choice of Synagogue, situated in one of the largest and oldest urban Jewish populations in the United States, was made in order to “maximize the devastation, amplify the harm of his crimes, and instill fear within the local, national and international Jewish communities”, and that, therefore, “a sentence of death is justified”.

But not everyone involved believes that killing the killer would be the best way to serve justice to the three congregations that had gathered to worship on the morning of October 27th.

Attorney General William Barr, who one month ago announced the reinstatement of capital punishment for federal prisoners, has received several letters since the Justice Department announced that it would be requesting the death penalty for Mr Bowers.

Both religions together

Amongst these is Rabbi Jonathan Perlman, a survivor of the attacks, who has appealed to Mr Barr’s Catholic Faith by reminding him that “recent popes and bishops have spoken out against the death penalty”. In his letter, he described 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 also wrote that “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, wrote to Mr Barr to ask that the killer receive a life-sentence rather than the death penalty, reiterating Rabbi Perlman’s thoughts on a prolonged and painful trial.

Cruel idea of justice

“It just makes no sense to me,” said Miri Rabinowitz, whose husband was one of the 11 people killed. For her, killing the man who murdered her husband would be a “cruel and bitter irony”, as he himself so strongly opposed the death penalty.

28 August 2019, 12:56