PITTSBURGH • The man charged with murdering 11 worshippers at a Pittsburgh synagogue in a shooting spree has pleaded not guilty to all 44 counts against him, including hate crimes and firearms offences.
Robert Bowers, 46, spoke little in court yesterday, other than to say he understood the charges against him and to enter a "not guilty" plea.
The charges against him include 11 counts of using a firearm during a crime of violence.
The maximum penalty Bowers could receive if convicted is death, or life without parole, plus 535 additional years of imprisonment.
"Every American has the right to attend their house of worship in safety," US Attorney-General Jeff Sessions said on Wednesday.
"The defendant in this case allegedly murdered 11 innocent people during religious services and injured four law enforcement officers. These alleged crimes are incomprehensibly evil and utterly repugnant to the values of this nation."
In a rampage that has been described as among the deadliest against the Jewish community in the United States, the shooter - armed with a Colt AR-15 rifle and at least three handguns - stormed the Tree of Life synagogue last Saturday and opened fire indiscriminately, the authorities said.
Bowers fired for several minutes and was leaving the synagogue when law enforcement officers met him at the door. According to the police, Bowers exchanged gunfire with officers before going back inside and barricading himself in a room. He eventually surrendered.
The indictment came as many gathered for funerals and shivas in the Squirrel Hill neighbourhood, home to many in Pittsburgh's Jewish community as well as several synagogues, kosher restaurants and bakeries.
For months before the shooting, Bowers had unleashed a torrent online of anti-immigrant and anti-Jewish invective.