Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh
Tree of Life Synagogue in PittsburghReuters

Jury selection began on Monday in the trial of 50-year-old Robert G. Bowers, who faces 63 counts in the Oct. 27, 2018, attack during Shabbat services at the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh, The Associated Press reported.

The charges include 11 counts of obstruction of free exercise of religion resulting in death and 11 counts of hate crimes resulting in death.

Bowers, a truck driver from the Pittsburgh suburb of Baldwin, was armed with an AR-15 and three handguns and allegedly yelled “I want to kill all Jews” during the attack.

He was initially indicted on 44 counts. In January of 2019, a federal grand jury added 19 charges to the 44 counts previously levied against Bowers. He has pleaded not guilty to all 63 federal counts.

Bowers could get the death sentence if convicted. He offered to plead guilty in return for a life sentence, but federal prosecutors turned him down.

Prosecutors, defense attorneys and the judge spent about 30 minutes on Monday questioning each of the first four prospective jurors to be called, according to AP. Most questions revolved around whether the candidates would be willing to impose the death sentence and, if so, whether they would be open to considering mitigating evidence, including about the defendant’s mental state or childhood.

All four said they would be able to consider a sentence of death or life in prison.

The court plans to select 12 jurors and six alternates.

In a filing earlier this month, prosecutors said Bowers “harbored deep, murderous animosity towards all Jewish people.” They said he also expressed hatred for HIAS, founded as the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society, a nonprofit humanitarian group that helps refugees and asylum seekers.

Last month, Bowers’ lawyers argued in a public court filing that Bowers has schizophrenia and structural and functional brain impairments.

The lawyers told a federal judge they were concerned a prosecution proposal to have their own psychiatric experts examine or evaluate him would be a “broad-ranging, invasive, and constitutionally problematic investigation” into his “life, mind, and body.”

The defense said prosecutors should be limited to looking for evidence that would dispute defense assertions and argued they should not be allowed to investigate every possible aspect of his mental health.