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Judge Denies Motion To Drop Hate Crimes Charges Against Synagogue Shooting Suspect Robert Bowers

PITTSBURGH (KDKA) -- A federal judge has denied a motion from the defense attorneys of Robert Bowers, who is the suspect in the Tree of Life Synagogue shooting, to have some of the charges against him dropped.

Bowers' defense argued to have charges related to the Hate Crimes Protection Act and the Church Arson Act dismissed.

He has been in custody since the October 2018 massacre inside Tree of Life in Squirrel Hill, which left 11 people dead. His attorneys argued the Hate Crime Prevention Act and the Church Arson Act infringe on powers reserved for the states, not the federal government.

(Photo Credit: Pennsylvania Department of Transportation)

"They're making an age-old federalism argument," said Constitution Law professor Jalila-Jefferson Bullock. "The problem with that argument is that there is ample Supreme Court precedent, ample federal court precedent that says that Congress, in fact, acted appropriately."

Jefferson-Bullock said the federal government can uphold the Hate Crimes Protection Act in Bowers' case.

She added, "It's pretty well settled in law that the courts have taken a very expansive view on what race means for 13th Amendment purposes."

The attorneys argued since the victims were all Jewish, and were not subjected to slavery or bias in the United States, the hate crime charge was not applicable in this case. The Hate Crimes Prevention Act was authorized by the 13th Amendment.

U.S. District Judge Donetta Ambrose issued a 20-page opinion, denying the motion, noting that the 13th Amendment was not meant solely for African slavery.

Jefferson-Bullock said presenting the motion aggravates the charges Bowers faces.

"What it does do is aggravate his charges," she said. "This is a hate crimes enhancement, so he's going to face larger jail time, different questions during his trial."

If he's convicted in Federal Court, Bowers faces the death penalty.

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