John Earnest, 20, a nursing student who on April 27, 2019 fired shots inside the Chabad of Poway synagogue in Poway, California, killing a woman and wounding three congregants, pleaded Not Guilty on Thursday to charges of murder, attempted murder and hate crimes.
On the last day of the Jewish Passover, which fell on Shabbat, at 11:23 AM, Earnest entered the Chabad of Poway synagogue, where some 100 people were present at the time. Earnest carried a Smith & Wesson semiautomatic rifle and was wearing a tactical vest with five magazines of ten rounds each. He shot and killed 60-year-old Lori Gilbert-Kaye who tried to shield congregation Rabbi Yisroel Goldstein. The rabbi was wounded. Earnest then fired into a room with adults and children, wounding a man and his 8-year-old niece.
Earnest managed to fire ten rounds before his rifle malfunctioned. He fled the synagogue to his Honda sedan, where an off-duty Border Patrolman fired on him, but the shooter escaped unharmed. Earnest later called 911 to report the shooting and was apprehended two miles from the synagogue.
According to The Washington Post, Earnest’s manifesto, which expressed his Christianity-based reasons for killing Jews, ended up leading to a social media debate among Christian pastors, including Rev. Duke Kwon of the Presbyterian Church in America, who said that the manifesto contained “a deep and ugly history of anti-Semitism that’s crept into the Christian church, that needs to be continuously addressed, condemned and corrected.” Other ministers also strongly denied that Christian theology and scripture offer any support for anti-Semitism. The Orthodox Presbyterian Church issued a statement saying “anti-Semitism and racist hatred which apparently motivated the shooter […] have no place within our system of doctrine.”
Thursday’s court hearing was a pre-trial formality, intended to give the defendant a chance to hear any new charges or allegations that may have been filed. In this case, one indictment was added, charging Earnest with using a firearm to cause great bodily injury or death to all four shooting victims.
According to Deputy District Attorney David Grapilon, it may take his office another month to decide whether to seek the death penalty against Earnest. He said prosecutors will consult with the victims, their families and synagogue members before deciding.
It’s a Chabad synagogue, so chances are no one would have a problem with giving the guy the needle.
Earnest could also face the death penalty in a federal case which has been filed separately from the state case, in which he is facing a 113-count federal indictment on hate crimes, use of a firearm, and obstructing the free exercise of religious believes by using a weapon causing death and injury.