Stony-faced, silent synagogue massacre suspect held without bond

US attorney Scott Brady (left) speaks at the Joseph F. Weis Jr. US Courthouse where Robert Bowers, the man accused of killing 11 worshippers in a Pittsburgh synagogue, had appeared in a federal court on Oct 29, 2018 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.
US attorney Scott Brady (left) speaks at the Joseph F. Weis Jr. US Courthouse where Robert Bowers, the man accused of killing 11 worshippers in a Pittsburgh synagogue, had appeared in a federal court on Oct 29, 2018 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. PHOTO: AFP

PITTSBURGH (REUTERS) - Shackled and in a wheelchair, the man accused of shooting 11 worshippers to death at a Pittsburgh synagogue made a stony-faced and largely silent appearance on Monday (Oct 29) in a federal courtroom, where he was ordered to be held without bond for the deadliest attack ever on America's Jewish community.

Robert Bowers, 46, who was wounded in a gunfight with police at the synagogue last Saturday (Oct 27), acknowledged the 29 charges against him, which could lead to his execution if found guilty.

Bowers, who has a history of posting anti-Semitic material online, will get a court-appointed attorney and was remanded to custody of United States marshals. His next hearing is set for Thursday.

"Robert Bowers murdered 11 people who were exercising their religious beliefs," US Attorney Scott Brady said after the arraignment, adding that a grand jury would hear details of the crime within 30 days.

The synagogue massacre has heightened debate over the rhetoric US President Donald Trump uses with critics, saying it has encouraged right-wing extremism, which the administration rejects.

But a group of Jewish leaders told Mr Trump in an open letter that he was "not welcome in Pittsburgh until you fully denounce white nationalism".

Despite that, Mr Trump and his wife Melania will travel to Pennsylvania on Tuesday (Oct 30) to "express the support of the American people and grieve with the Pittsburgh community", White House press secretary Sarah Sanders said at a briefing.

 
 
 

Bowers' arraignment was marked by a heavy security presence that included police officers with dogs and a team of sharpshooters at the federal court in Pittsburgh.

Wearing a blue sweatshirt, gray sweatpants, sandals and white socks, with a crewcut and bald spot, Bowers remained expressionless throughout the short hearing.

The charges against him include violation of US civil rights laws in what federal prosecutors say was a hate crime.

Bowers spoke during the hearing only to give his name, state that he understood the charges against him and to say that he lacked the funds to pay for an attorney to represent him.

He spoke in a calm voice and signed the papers handed to him with a steady hand.

Only at the end of the hearing, when he was wheeled out of the courtroom, did Bowers appear unsettled, turning his head in apparent confusion.