The man who killed 11 people at a Squirrel Hill synagogue has been moved to federal death row at the U.S. Penitentiary in Terre Haute, Indiana.
Robert Bowers, 50, was sentenced to the death penalty on Aug. 3 after a jury heard from 51 witnesses over nine days of testimony in the penalty phase of the case.
He arrived on death row on Aug. 25.
Bowers was found guilty of all 63 counts against him stemming from the Oct. 27, 2018, attack at the Tree of Life synagogue at Wilkins and Shady Avenues.
Killed were Rose Mallinger, 97; Bernice Simon, 84, and her husband, Sylvan Simon, 86; brothers David Rosenthal, 54, and Cecil Rosenthal, 59; Dan Stein, 71; Dr. Jerry Rabinowitz, 66; Joyce Fienberg, 75; Melvin Wax, 87; Irving Younger, 69, and Richard Gottfried, 65.
They were members of the Tree of Life-Or L’Simcha, Dor Hadash and New Light congregations.
Under federal law, Bowers has an automatic appeal to the Third U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. Following that, he can ask the trial court — in this case, U.S. District Judge Robert J. Colville — for review. Any further appeals to the U.S. Supreme Court are discretionary.
Bowers joins 43 other prisoners on federal death row, according to the Death Penalty Information Center. Thirty-nine are housed at Terre Haute.
Only one other is from Pennsylvania. Kaboni Savage was sentenced to death in 2013 for his involvement in killing 12 people in Philadelphia as part of a drug enterprise between 1998 and 2004. His sentence was upheld by the Third Circuit in 2020.
The federal death penalty, struck down by the U.S. Supreme Court in 1972, was reinstated in 1988.
Only three people were executed from that year until 2020. Then, in the last six months and one day of President Donald Trump’s administration, 13 federal inmates were put to death.
U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland issued a moratorium on the federal death penalty in July 2021 to examine the procedures used by the Trump administration that made it easier to pursue executions.
Under the Biden administration, the Justice Department has withdrawn its notice to seek the death penalty in 23 cases. It has also chosen not to seek capital punishment against 389 defendants potentially eligible.
The Bowers case was the only one active in the federal system.
A class-action lawsuit filed in January by the ACLU of Indiana challenges the solitary confinement conditions on federal death row.
Prisoners are housed on the Special Confinement Unit, which opened in 1999, the complaint said. Cells are 12½ feet-by-7 feet and contain a table and stool, sink, toilet and shower.
There is a small window to the outside that cannot be opened, and a small slot in the door through which meals are passed. All meals are eaten in the cell, the lawsuit said.
Prisoners are permitted outside of their cells for a total of six hours each week for solitary recreation — either in a small indoor area with exercise equipment or in outdoor recreation cages, including one with a basketball hoop.
Some prisoners are granted an increased status which allows them to have recreation with one other assigned prisoner twice a week for 90 minutes. That occurs, the lawsuit said, in a leisure room with books, hot water for drinks and a television.
Prisoners also are allowed out of their cells for one hour a day to use the law library by themselves and can use one of six individual cages for religious services.
Three prisoners on death row have jobs, the lawsuit said. There is no group programming. Each person is visited by a mental health professional once a month in their cell.
“While in their cells, prisoners are forced to yell to try to communicate with other prisoners on the unit,” the lawsuit said. “As a result, the unit is often quite noisy.”
According to the Bureau of Prisons, inmates on death row have access to commissary items, including a radio, soft drinks, cookies, candy, snacks and personal hygiene items.
Bowers, who previously was being held at Butler County Prison, was described at trial as seeming to enjoy the regimen of incarceration and the solitary lifestyle — spending about 22 hours each day in his cell. Corrections officers described him as a model inmate who never complained and never committed any disciplinary infractions. Bowers never questioned an officer’s authority and was always respectful, they said.
While housed at Butler, he had almost no interaction with other inmates, but the officers called him “Uncle Bob.”
Paula Reed Ward is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Paula by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter .