Pittsburgh synagogue shooting suspect pleads not guilty

The truck driver accused of gunning down 11 people at a Pittsburgh synagogue has pleaded not guilty to federal charges that could put him on death row.

Robert Bowers faces 44 charges, including murder, hate crimes

Robert Bowers, 46, pleaded not guilty Thursday to 44 charges in connection with the shooting rampage that killed 11 worshippers at the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh on Saturday. (Pennsylvania Department of Transportation)

The truck driver accused of gunning down 11 people at a Pittsburgh synagogue has pleaded not guilty to federal charges that could put him on death row.

Robert Bowers was arraigned Thursday, a day after a grand jury issued a 44-count indictment that charges him with murder, hate crimes, obstructing the practice of religion and other crimes. 

It was his second brief appearance in a federal courtroom since the weekend massacre at Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh's Squirrel Hill neighbourhood. 

Authorities say the 46-year-old Bowers raged against Jews during and after the rampage. It was the deadliest anti-Semitic attack on Jews in U.S. history. He remains jailed without bail.

Bowers, who was shot and wounded during a gun battle that injured four police officers, walked into court under his own power, his left arm heavily bandaged. He was in a wheelchair during his first court appearance on Monday. 

Bowers frowned as the charges were read, but did not appear to have a reaction as a federal prosecutor announced he could face a death sentence. He told a prosecutor he had read the indictment, and when asked if he understood the charges, said "Yes."

One of his federal public defenders, Michael Novara, said Bowers pleaded not guilty, "as is typical at this stage of the proceedings."

Funerals continue

Funerals for the victims continue this week.

Jared Younger of Los Angeles told mourners that he waited for hours Saturday for his father to pick up the phone or let them know he was all right. The dread built all day until his sister learned their father, Irving Younger, had indeed been shot and killed. 

"That waiting stage was just unbearable," Younger said at his father's funeral Wednesday. "Saturday was the most lonely day of my life." 

Funerals are being held Thursday for Bernice and Sylvan Simon, husband and wife, and Dr. Richard Gottfried, a dentist who worked part-time at a clinic treating refugees and immigrants. The oldest victim, 97-year-old Rose Mallinger, will be honoured at the last service Friday. Her daughter was injured in the attack. 

Tree of Life remains a crime scene. Rabbis and other volunteers have been cleaning the temple to remove all bodily traces from the 11 victims, following Jewish law regarding death and burial.