PITTSBURGH (KDKA) — The decision Tuesday by federal prosecutors to reject accused Tree of Life shooter Robert Bowers’ offer to plead guilty in exchange for a sentence of life without release went against the wishes of some Squirrel Hill congregation members.
Dor Hadash and New Light wanted to avoid the pain of reliving the massacre at trial, but the prosecutors still want to pursue the death penalty.
Bowers is accused of killing 11 people at the Tree of Life Synagogue in Squirrel Hill last October.
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Some of the victims feel it could be years before justice is served with a trial and death penalty sentence.
“That is way too long a time for closure, which I think is what is important for a congregation and for the families,” New Light Congregation co-president Stephen Cohen said.
Cohen wrote a letter in August for the U.S. Attorney General to take the offer of a plea deal for the suspected gunman to spend the rest of his life in jail.
“The witnesses don’t have to testify. There is no trauma attached to being in court and having to relive the events of that day,” Cohen said.
Another survivor, Judah Samet, said the death penalty lets the accused get off the hook for his actions.
“I don’t want to kill because, to me, it would be a gift to him,” he said. “He won’t suffer.”
Samet is OK with a trial, but he wants to see the suspect spend the rest of his life in jail.
“I can’t forgive him, no. Do I hate him? No,” Samet said at his Pittsburgh apartment.
Samet does understand why the U.S. Attorney’s Office is pushing for the death penalty.
“It could heal the public knowing that he’s gone. I think that’s why the government wants to kill him,” Samet said.
Cohen is not opposed to the death penalty. He feels for the community to heal and have closure, they can’t be expected to relive that tragic day over and over.
“By going for the death penalty, it could be 10 years or more before we reach closure. That’s just cruel,” he said.
Cohen was not pleased with the expected start of the trial, with the jury selection beginning in mid-September of next year. That coincides with the Jewish High Holy Days.
He feels the decision is not about justice, but it is politically-motivated.
The U.S. Attorney’s Office did not offer any comment on their decision.