NewsTalk: Death penalty potential in Tree of Life shooting

NewsTalk: Legal Ramifications of Synagogue Shooting

Posted: Nov 2, 2018 7:01 AM
Updated: Nov 2, 2018 8:26 AM

Oneida County District Attorney Scott McNamara discussed the death penalty for the Pittsburgh Tree of Life Synagogue accused shooter, Robert Bowers, and the legal process in prosecuting the case. 

Bowers has pleaded not guilty to federal charges that could result in a death sentence. Police say he killed 11 people and wounded six others in the deadliest attack on Jews in U.S. history.  Bowers is facing 29 federal charges, 22 of which could potentially carry the death penalty. That doesn’t necessarily mean Robert Bowers will be put to death.

Bowers is facing both state and federal charges. According to, the Allegheny County district attorney's office said  it’s still possible Bowers could be prosecuted under state law. District Attorney Stephen Zappala is working with federal officials to figure that out.

Federal prosecutors have vowed to pursue the death penalty, and it looks like this is supported by U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions.

Oneida County District Attorney McNamara said,  "From my experience, the U.S. government does not typically go after the death penalty except in very extreme cases, this being one, obviously we're talking about what's being reported as one of the most Anti-Semitic shootings or homicides in this country's history."

"When you have a local district attorney, like myself, there's one there, he's probably looking and thinking, 'Hey listen, this is a case that should be prosecuted locally, this took place in my jurisdiction.'"

In New York state McNamara said, "If the state goes first, the federal government can go second. It cannot go the other way around. If the federal government goes first, we have a double jeopardy issue.

"This is one of the few cases where I think the U.S. government would be hard pressed not to look at the death penalty because it's such a terrible shooting and because so many people got killed."

According to, it’s more common for states to hand down death penalties than the federal government. Right now, more than 2,700 inmates face death on state charges, compared with 62 on federal death row.

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