The perpetrator of the 2018 Pittsburgh synagogue massacre has led a deeply unstable life dominated by serious mental illness and family dysfunction, and has attempted suicide several times, a clinical psychologist testified Thursday, according to The Associated Press.
“This was a person who from the beginning had a childhood that was just laden with trauma, neglect and abuse from before he was born,” Katherine Porterfield testified for the defense during the sentencing phase of the trial of shooter Robert Bowers.
Bowers, 50, of suburban Baldwin, killed 11 worshippers on Oct. 27, 2018, when he opened fire inside the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh.
Porterfield’s second day of testimony focused on Bowers’ teen and adult years, according to AP. She said that Bowers showed some improvement around age 13 after an extended hospitalization in a juvenile mental health unit, but he returned to a highly unstable home and self-threatening behavior. He threatened or attempted suicide multiple times in his teens, including by setting himself on fire, Porterfield said.
As an adult, Bowers again was hospitalized after threatening to fatally shoot himself. He was fired from the only long-term job he could maintain, as a truck driver for a local bakery, for stealing money. Family members recognized he was barely functioning as an adult and tried to help him find jobs and housing, but he had no effective intervention to address mental illness, Porterfield said.
While Porterfield did not formally analyze Bowers or diagnose him with a mental illness, she cited evidence of his deteriorating mental health from his long history of suicidal threats and attempts, psychiatric hospitalizations and prescriptions for antidepressants.
Lawyers for Bowers had argued previously that the gunman had psychotic, delusional and paranoid symptoms that made him unable to understand the world or make appropriate decisions.
His defense team had also argued that the defendant suffers from schizophrenia. They offered a guilty plea in exchange for life in prison, which was rejected by the prosecution.
Later Thursday featured the first testimony by a member of Bowers' family — an aunt, Deanna Bowers, of California, who was married to the brother of Bowers' father. She testified that she only met Robert Bowers once when he was a child. She testified that her husband and Bowers' father were estranged and had grown up in a troubled family, with their mother alleging abuse by their father in a divorce filing.
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