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Pittsburgh congregation asks DOJ to reverse course on death penalty for shooter

A Reconstructionist congregation that was housed in the Tree of Life*Or L’Simcha building in Pittsburgh targeted in a deadly shooting in 2018 is asking Attorney General Merrick Garland to “abandon its quest for the death penalty” in the case against the accused shooter.

In a June 17 letter to Garland, the president of Congregation Dor Hadash, Bruce Herschlag, asked Garland to seek justice “in a manner that is both consistent with our religious values and that spares us from the painful ordeal of prolonged legal maneuvering” after 11 were killed in the massacre.

The Department of Justice is seeking the death penalty for the alleged perpetrator, Robert Bowers, but his legal team has indicated Bowers would take a plea deal to avoid the death penalty.

“The imposition of multiple life sentences would ensure that the perpetrator is never released,” wrote Herschlag. “This is the outcome we desire.”

The leaders of Dor Hadash and another congregation in the building at the time of the shooting, New Light, have been outspoken in their oppositon to the death penalty in this case. The congregations have also written to former Attorney General William Barr.

The defense and prosecution have been trading discovery requests and motions for the last two years. The presiding judge, Donetta Ambrose, denied a motion by the defense on Monday that sought to prove that the government was monitoring Bowers before the shooting.

In the letter to Garland, Dor Hadash outlined scriptural basis for members’ opposition to the death penalty, including the prophet Micah’s instruction to “do justly, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with Ha Shem.”

Herschlag also noted that one of the Dor Hadash members who was killed in the shooting, Dr. Jerry Rabinowitz, was “firmly and unequivocally opposed to the death penalty.”

“A negotiated plea resulting in life in prison would honor Jerry’s memory,” said Herschlag.

Correction, June 28, 9:47 a.m.: A previous version of this story misstated the year of the attack in Pittsburgh.

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