Judge Rejects a Defense Request to Exhume the Body of the Pittsburgh Synagogue Shooter’s Father

The Associated Press
By The Associated Press
July 29, 2023USshare
Judge Rejects a Defense Request to Exhume the Body of the Pittsburgh Synagogue Shooter’s Father
The Tree of Life Synagogue (L) in the Squirrel Hill neighborhood of Pittsburgh on July 13, 2023. (Gene J. Puskar/AP Photo)

PITTSBURGH—A federal judge Wednesday rejected a request by lawyers for the Pittsburgh synagogue gunman to exhume the body of the defendant’s father to prove paternity.

Robert Bowers’ lawyers had wanted the body disinterred for a DNA test after prosecutors raised questions about paternity during Bowers’ trial for the 2018 shooting at the Tree of Life synagogue. Mr. Bowers, a 50-year-old truck driver from suburban Baldwin, faces a possible death sentence after being convicted in June of killing 11 people who had gathered for Sabbath worship and study.

Trying to persuade jurors to spare his life, the defense said Mr. Bowers has a family history of mental illness and has introduced evidence that his father, Randall Bowers, was diagnosed with schizophrenia. The defense asserts that Mr. Robert Bowers also has schizophrenia and opened fire at the synagogue out of a delusional belief that Jews were helping to commit a genocide against white people.

Robert Bowers
Robert Bowers. (Pennsylvania Department of Transportation via AP)

Randall Bowers died by suicide in 1979 on the eve of his own rape trial. At trial last week, prosecutors sought to cast doubt on whether he was Mr. Robert Bowers’ biological father. The defense asked the judge on Tuesday to clear up the matter by ordering the exhumation of Randall Bowers’ body.

U.S. District Judge Robert Colville agreed with prosecutors that the defense waited too long to make its motion for exhumation, noting Mr. Bowers’ own mother questioned whether Randall Bowers was the biological father when a defense expert spoke to her in November 2022. The defense should have anticipated that federal prosecutors would seek to rebut paternity, Colville said in the ruling. The judge also said he probably lacks legal authority to order a disinterment.

Mental health experts hired by the defense told jurors that they diagnosed Mr. Robert Bowers with schizophrenia, a serious brain disorder whose symptoms include delusions and and hallucinations. A neurologist testifying for the prosecution disputed that Mr. Bowers has schizophrenia and said mental illness did not appear to play a role in the attack.

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