US prosecutors add hate crime charges in synagogue shooting
SAN DIEGO — Federal officials announced Thursday that they have filed 109 hate crime charges against the 19-year-old man accused of opening fire in a Southern California synagogue.
Prosecutors say the gunman, identified as John T. Earnest, killed a woman and wounded an 8-year-old girl, her uncle and Rabbi Yisroel Goldstein, who was leading the service at the Chabad of Poway synagogue on the last day of Passover, a major Jewish holiday.
In a court appearance last month, Earnest pleaded not guilty to state charges of murder and attempted murder. In a separate case, he has pleaded not guilty to burning a mosque in nearby Escondido.
Authorities say he fired at least eight shots in the synagogue before fleeing.
Earnest would be eligible for the death penalty or life in prison without parole if convicted of murder that is classified as a hate crime. California Gov. Gavin Newsom in March issued a moratorium on executions while he is in office.
Prosecutors say Earnest expressed his “intent to harm Jews” in an online posting. He also acknowledged using gasoline to spark a blaze that charred a wall of the Escondido mosque and scrawling graffiti praising the gunman who killed 50 people at two New Zealand mosques last month.
Earnest was an accomplished student, athlete and musician whose embrace of white supremacy and anti-Semitism stunned his family and others closest to him. He lived with his parents and made the dean’s list both semesters last year as a nursing student at California State University, San Marcos.
Earnest frequented 8chan, a dark corner of the web where those disaffected by mainstream social media sites often post extremist, racist and violent views.
“I’ve only been lurking here for a year and half, yet what I’ve learned here is priceless. It’s been an honor,” he wrote.
Federal hate crime charges were also filed against the gunman who last fall opened fire at Pittsburgh’s Tree of Life Synagogue, killing 11 worshippers. Authorities in that case say Robert Bowers also expressed hatred of Jews. Bowers, 46, has pleaded not guilty