Jury selection began Monday in the trial of the shooter who killed 11 at the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh in 2018.
The 50-year-old shooter faces 63 counts, including 11 counts of obstruction of free exercise of religion resulting in death and 11 counts of hate crimes resulting in death.
If convicted, he could face the death penalty, jurors said Monday.
On October 27, 2018, the shooter opened fire on Jewish worshippers holding Sabbath services at the Tree of Life synagogue in east Pittsburgh. He killed 11 people and wounded six more, including several Holocaust survivors.
The attack was the most deadly anti-Semitic attack in United States history.
He was armed with a Colt AR-15 semi-automatic rifle, as well as three Glock .357 handguns — and fired all four of the firearms, authorities said.
Prosecutors say their evidence also includes hundreds of cartridge cases, as well as bullets.
The shooter, a truck driver from a Pittsburgh suburb, offered to plead guilty in order to get a life sentence rather than a death sentence, but federal prosecutors rejected that offer.
His legal team said he has schizophrenia, as well as structural and functional brain impairments.
U.S. District Judge Robert Colville is overseeing the trial in downtown Pittsburgh.
Several relatives of victims who died in the attack, as well as one survivor of the attack, were reportedly in the courtroom for the first day of the trial.
All four of the first prospective jurors said they would be willing to consider a death sentence or life in prison. They were each questioned for about 30 minutes, mostly about how they felt regarding a potential death penalty.
Most of the families of the victims said that they support the government pursuing the death penalty.
The shooter’s online presence showed he made anti-Semitic statements. He reportedly called Jews the “children of Satan,” and his cover photo on the social media website Gab was a photo with the number 1488, which has been used by white supremacists to reference the “14 Words” white supremacist slogan, as well as the Nazi slogan “Heil Hitler.”
Prosecutors are expected to argue that the attack was motivated by religious hatred. Earlier this month, prosecutors said in a court filing that the shooter “harbored deep, murderous animosity towards all Jewish people.”
In 2021, during a pretrial hearing, a police officer testified that the shooter was “very calm and he said he’s had enough and that Jews are killing our children and the Jews had to die.” Another police officers said the shooter had told him “these people are committing genocide on my people and I want to kill Jews.”
Court documents show that prosecutors may bring in autopsies and the 911 calls of two victims who were later shot and killed.
The trial is expected to revolve around whether the shooter should be sentenced to death.
President Biden said during his 2020 campaign that he wanted to abolish the death penalty at the federal level, but prosecutors are moving forward with the potential of a death sentence in this trial.
The trial is expected to be lengthy, lasting several months, with jury selection taking up to several weeks.