Attorneys in Robert Bowers case reach agreement in witness access dispute
Defense attorneys and federal prosecutors in the case against accused Tree of Life gunman Robert Bowers reached an agreement after weeks of consternation regarding access to witnesses, according to federal court filings.
Bowers faces 51 federal charges in connection with the mass shooting at Squirrel Hill’s Tree of Life synagogue Oct. 27.
His defense team in late May accused the FBI of meddling in the case, contending they discouraged witnesses from speaking with the defense.
Prosecutors dismissed the allegations as an attempt to subvert the discovery process.
In the Friday court filing, the prosecution and defense said they understand that both sides have “equal rights of access” to witnesses, and neither side needs the permission of the other to speak with those witnesses.
Both sides also agreed they would not try to discourage witnesses from talking to the other side.
In their response to the meddling allegations, prosecutors raised concerns regarding a victim-outreach specialist hired by the defense, former defense attorney Susan Casey, who was reaching out to victims directly.
Specifically, they took issue with Casey’s introductory letter to survivors and family members in which she described her work as “complementary to that of the victim advocate in the U.S. Attorney’s Office.”
Friday’s agreement stipulates that Casey “appropriately identified herself and her role as the defense-victim outreach specialist in this case.”
The agreement now awaits approval by U.S. District Judge Donetta Ambrose.
In a separate filing, Bowers’ attorneys responded to the issues raised regarding Casey’s role, pointing out that her letter to victims laid out that her job is not to defend Bowers but “to offer a safe and respectful avenue for you and your congregants to communicate with the defense team …”
The filing included letters from other victims espousing the usefulness of a victim-outreach specialist on the defense side – specifically from relatives of victims in several high-profile murders as well as from two restorative justice experts.
The Department of Justice continues to weigh whether Bowers will face the death penalty. The deadline for pretrial motions in the case is set for Aug. 15.
Megan Guza is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Megan at 412-380-8519, [email protected] or via Twitter .