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Suspected Poway Synagogue Shooter Could Face Death Penalty On Federal Hate Crime Charges

Federal prosecutors on Thursday charged the suspected gunman in the April shooting at the Chabad of Poway synagogue with federal hate crimes, including murder and attempted murder.

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Speaker 1: 00:00 Moments ago, the US Department of Justice announced federal hate crime and civil rights charges against the alleged shooter and the Habbat of Poway synagogue back on April 27th. The charges include 54 counts of obstruction of free exercise of religious beliefs. Here's US attorney Robert Brewer.

Speaker 2: 00:18 That's one count for every person in the synagogue. On April 27th, including 12 children,

Speaker 1: 00:27 Kay PBS reporter Andrew Bowen joins us from the US Attorney's office downtown. We're a news conference about those charges. Just wrapped up. Andrew, what is this alleged shooter being charged with in regards to the synagogue shooting?

Speaker 3: 00:41 Well, jade, as you mentioned, there were 109 counts of hate crime violations included in the federal complaint. Here I'm 54 counts are a for the obstruction of free exercise of religious beliefs using a dangerous weapon resulting in death or bodily injury and attempts to kill. And that is a one counts or one 54 people is the number of people who are inside the synagogue. That day. Of course, one woman was killed and the 53 others, uh, were there, uh, and uh, in, in the room. Uh, 54 counts also of hate crimes violations in relation to the shooting. Um, and this is a violation of the, the Federal Hate Crimes Prevention Act. And then, uh, there is one count of damage to religious property by fire. In other words, our sin. And that's related to the attack on the mosque in Escondido.

Speaker 1: 01:35 And what type of sentence is he facing?

Speaker 3: 01:39 The crimes do a altogether carry a maximum possible death penalty or life without parole? I did ask, uh, the, uh, trial attorney who is going to be trying this case when the decision will be made on whether or not to pursue the death penalty. And what he said was that the only person in the federal government who can make that call as the attorney general, and there's a process that is involved with, with making that decision. He said that they will be consulting with the victims and the congregants of the Kubota of Poway synagogue. And, uh, ultimately the attorney general is the one who will determine whether or not to pursue the death penalty.

Speaker 1: 02:21 And you as attorney Robert Druer read some language from the complaint about the right of Americans to worship in peace.

Speaker 2: 02:28 Every citizen, no matter their race or religion. All of our community members have the right to worship and live in peace as alleged. The defendant wanted to destroy those individual fundamental rights when he attempted to burn down a mosque and violently kill innocent people who were simply gathered to worship.

Speaker 1: 02:55 No. Andrew, did we learn anything new about the details around either abuse attacks?

Speaker 3: 03:01 Well, one thing, the one question that we had when the district attorney Summer Stephan announced her charges was whether or not the weapon was purchased legally. She said that it appeared that appeared to be the case that he did purchase this a assault rifle legally. Um, but there was a little bit of ambiguity in her answer. That question was asked again today, and it is included in the federal complaint that he picked up the weapon from a gun store, uh, on April 26th. In other words, the day before the shooting, um, the, the, the u s attorney didn't specifically say outright that, uh, the weapon was purchased legally. He just said that there were no charges about the purchase of the weapon in this complaint. And now under California law, there is a waiting period for picking up these types of weapons. So we have to assume that he made the decision to purchase the weapon, uh, before actually taking it up. And then he picked it up the day before

Speaker 1: 03:54 four and there was also a nine one one call made to correct.

Speaker 3: 03:58 Yeah. And so, uh, one thing that the attorney said was that, uh, the, the suspect called nine one one after the shooting and told the dispatcher that he adjusts, shot up as synagogue. He said he was trying to defend his nation against the Jewish people. And, uh, he said that he think he thought that he killed some people. Uh, so that is some, a bit of new information as well. Um, of course, we already knew that there was this online, a open letter that he had allegedly posted, uh, with a number of antisemitic a conspiracy theories and, uh, and just a lot of, a really horrific statements against the Jewish people. So, uh, all of the evidence that we've seen so far is certainly pointing to the fact that, or to the assumption that this was motivated, uh, as an attack against the Jewish people, uh, and the entire Jewish community and the same case with the attack on the mosque, an attack against the entire Muslim community.

Speaker 1: 05:02 And so for prosecutors, those two things are what weighed heavy and their decision to pursue the hate crime charges?

Speaker 3: 05:09 Absolutely, yes. The, the, the charges are essentially, uh, that he is, uh, uh, attempting to, uh, prohibit or obstruct the free exercise of religion. So this was, this attack was not an attempt, uh, not only an attempt to kill people, it was an attempt to terrify and, uh, terrorize a religious group and prevent them from being able to exercise their constitutional rights to practice their religion.

Speaker 1: 05:36 And there was an FBI agent there too who spoke, what did he say?

Speaker 3: 05:40 Oh, is she actually said that? Uh, she basically made a plea to a community members to always report, uh, people that they suspect will, uh, potentially commit this type of crime. She said it takes a whole community to prevent these types of crimes. And uh, she said that also the FBI has done a lot of assistance to the local law enforcement in terms of interviewing the victims and reviewing digital evidence. So that's what we heard from the FBI.

Speaker 1: 06:07 And are these federal prosecutors working with local prosecutors on these charges?

Speaker 3: 06:12 Yes. And one thing that we learned today also is that a, the u s attorney said that the trials we'll pursue or that these charges will be pursued a simultaneously. So, um, what we heard is that, well, the, the suspect is currently in state custody. Uh, what the u s attorney said was dead on, uh, 2:00 PM on Tuesday. Um, or thereabouts. He'll be brought to the federal building and be arraigned on these federal charges. Uh, and I believe he said after that he would be transferred back to state custody. Um, so it's, it seems unlikely to me that the trials will take place simultaneously. I would expect that one would start and have to conclude and the other one would follow. Um, but he said that it would be a joint decision between the local and the federal authorities on which case to pursue first and a either way. I think that, um, we, we can expect that, um, uh, you know, he'll be facing a very long trial.

Speaker 1: 07:11 I had been speaking with Kpbs News reporter Andrew Bowen. Andrew, thanks for joining us. Thank you. Jade.

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Maureen Cavanaugh and Jade Hindmon host KPBS Midday Edition, a daily radio news magazine keeping San Diego in the know on everything from politics to the arts.