Dor Hadash, New Light leaders urge AG to accept life in prison for accused Tree of Life gunman
Members of two Pittsburgh Jewish congregations have asked federal prosecutors to seek a plea deal with accused Tree of Life synagogue shooter Robert Bowers and reject a death penalty case.
In a letter to U.S. Attorney General William Barr dated Aug. 9 and released Friday, Dor Hadash President Donna Coufal said a plea deal serves the interest of the congregation and public by eliminating a trial.
“In consideration of the significant injury to our congregation, Dor Hadash requests that the parties agree to a plea deal in which the perpetrator would accept a sentence of life imprisonment with no possibility of parole in exchange for the prosecution’s agreement not to seek the death penalty,” the letter read.
New Light Rabbi Jonathon Perlman posted a letter to Barr dated earlier this month to his Facebook page last week. The letter referenced a remark by Barr made during his announcement that the government would resume carrying out the federal death penalty. “… we owe it to the victims and their families,” Barr said.
“I want to report to you as a victim of the attack and one who has spoken to our families that we have been depleted by the ordeal of this year,” Perlman wrote.
The Oct. 27, 2018, attack killed 11 worshippers across the three congregations — Tree of Life*Or L’Simcha as well as New Light and Dor Hadash — that held services in the Squirrel Hill building.
A plea deal, Coufal wrote, would keep Bowers — whose name she does not use in the letter — from “getting the attention and publicity that would inevitably come with a trial.”
It’s what slain Dor Hadash congregant Dr. Jerry Rabinowitz would want, said his wife.
“In honor of his blessed memory, and his deep and abiding opposition to the death penalty, I am writing to urge you, in the strongest terms possible, to accept the offer made by the perpetrator to plead guilty,” Miri Rabinowitz wrote in a separate letter to Barr.
Bowers’ lawyer Judy Clarke said at his arraignment in February that the defense would seek a plea deal.
Miri Rabinowitz wrote that a plea deal would allow her to “continue the slow and painful process of healing without having to relieve the horrific circumstances of Jerry’s murder through a trial and inevitable lengthy appeals.”
She, too, referenced keeping Bowers from the publicity he seeks.
“Most of all,” she continued, “it would prevent the cruel and bitter irony of imposing the death sentence, ostensibly in Jerry’s name, when Jerry abhorred capital punishment and devoted himself in word and deed, professionally, personally and spiritually, to the sanctity of life.”
Perlman wrote that he wants the gunman to spend life in prison.
“He should meditate on whether taking action on some white separatist fantasy against the Jewish people was really worth it,” he wrote. “Let him live with it forever. I am mainly interested in not letting this thug cause my community any further pain.”
The Department of Justice continues to weigh whether to seek the death penalty against Bowers, who killed Rabinowitz and 10 others during Shabbat services.
The shooting was the country’s deadliest anti-Semitic attack.
Megan Guza is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Megan at 412-380-8519, [email protected] or via Twitter .