Three years after the religiously-motivated attack on Pittsburgh’s Tree of Life synagogue, the status of the state and federal prosecutions in the case remains unsettled. As the three Jewish congregations who worship at the synagogue marked the anniversary of the October 27, 2018 attack that took the lives of eleven congregants, no trial date is in sight and the prospect of a capital trial that many in the tightly-knit community oppose continues to delay healing.

Lawyers for the accused shooter, Robert Bowers, whose social media posts reflect white supremacist and virulently anti-Semitic views, said that Bowers is willing to plead guilty and spare the community the trauma of a trial if prosecutors drop the death penalty. They told U.S. District Court Judge Donetta Ambrose in 2019 that the “case would already be over — and interests in a speedy resolution vindicated — had the government accepted the defendant’s offer to plead guilty as charged and be sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of release.”

Carol Black, who survived the attack by hiding in a storeroom, told Associated Press, “We would like to move on with our lives and we would like to get this over [and] done with.”

In March 2019, Rabbi Jonathan Perlman — who was wounded in the attack and whose New Light Congregation lost three members in the shooting — and his wife, Beth Kissileff were interviewed by U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) officials and urged them not to seek the death penalty. Perlman, Donna Coufal, then President of the Dor Hadash Congregation, and Miri Rabinowitz, the widow of Dr. Jerry Rabinowitz, wrote letters to U.S. Attorney General William Barr again asking DOJ to forego the death penalty. Federal prosecutors nevertheless informed the court that they would capitally prosecute the case.

Following President Biden’s election, Congregation Dor Hadash’s new President, Bruce Herschlag, wrote to U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland in June 2021 asking the Justice Department to “abandon its quest for the death penalty.” Although Biden administration prosecutors dropped the death penalty and accepted a guilty plea September 21, 2021 in the case of another white supremacist who killed one congregant and wounded three others in a Passover attack on the Chabad of Poway synagogue in San Diego, the Justice Department continues to seek death in the Pittsburgh killings. Allegheny County prosecutors have deferred action on state murder charges until the federal case is resolved.

In an October 15, 2021 commentary on the Jewish news website, The Forward, Kissileff expressed her continuing opposition to the death penalty in the case. “There is no communal value nor healing in responding to violence with more violence,” she wrote. “True justice for our murdered community members requires only assurance from the Justice Department that their killer will remain permanently in prison.”