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Pittsburgh synagogue shooting suspect pleads not guilty

FILE – This undated Pennsylvania Department of Transportation photo shows Robert Bowers. Bowers, a truck driver accused of killing 11 and injuring seven in an attack on a Pittsburgh synagogue in October 2018 and is expected to appear Monday morning, Feb. 11, 2019, in a federal courtroom to be indicted on additional charges. (Pennsylvania Department of Transportation via AP, File)

PITTSBURGH – The man charged in the Pittsburgh synagogue massacre pleaded not guilty to hate crime and dozens of other counts Monday, but his new lawyer — a prominent death penalty litigator who represented one of the Boston Marathon bombers — signaled he would be open to a plea deal.

Robert Bowers, a truck driver who authorities say gunned down 11 people at the Tree of Life Synagogue, appeared in a federal court with the lawyer Judy Clarke, who expressed hope that the matter will be resolved without a trial.

Clarke is known for negotiating plea deals that helped some of the nation’s most notorious murderers avoid the death row, including Unabomber Ted Kaczynski, Atlanta Olympics bomber Eric Rudolph and Arizona shooter, Jared Lee Loughner, who killed six people and injured 13 others, including the USA. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords. A jury convicted the marathon bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, who Clarke represented, death.

Prosecutors in Pittsburgh have indicated previously that they have the intention to try the death penalty against Bowers, but a final decision rests with the attorney-general.

Asked whether the government would consider a plea deal that spares Bowers a possible death penalty, the Prosecutor of the V. S. Scott W. Brady said in a statement Monday: “The defendant is charged with the crimes which the maximum possible punishment of death. We are committed to seeking justice for the victims and their families in this case.”

Assistant district Attorney of the V. S. Troy Rivetti said in the court that a trial could last about three weeks, not including any penalty phase.

Bowers, who was handcuffed, said little, giving yes or no answers.

A grand jury on Jan. 29 added 19 counts the 44-Bowers already was focused. The additional costs are hate crimes, violations, obstruction of religious beliefs and the use of firearms during crimes of violence.

Bowers, 46, of Baldwin, Pennsylvania, is accused of targeting worshipers from three Jewish municipalities when he attacked Saturday, Oct. 27, during the Sabbath services.

Seven people were injured, including five police officers.

Donna Coufal, a member of the Dor Hadash congregation that occupies space on the Tree of Life, said she attended Monday’s arrest “to testify. It is a painful moment, but we remain strong as a community.”

Researchers say that Bowers posted a criticism of a Jewish charity of social media for the attack, the claim of the immigrant aid society “nice to intruders who are killing our people.” The authorities, said he raged against the Jews as he shot his victims, and told investigators “all Jews must die.”

Bowers is in prison and ended up in the Butler County Jail, about 35 miles (55 kilometers) north of the shooting scene.

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Associated Press writer Michael Rubinkam in northeastern Pennsylvania contributed to this story.

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