Nineteen-year-old John T. Earnest pleaded “not guilty” on Tuesday to a charge of murder and three counts of attempted murder in his first appearance at an arraignment hearing before Judge Joseph Brannigan in a San Diego courtroom.
Earnest also pleaded “not guilty” to a charge of arson in connection with the burning of a mosque in nearby Escondido last month.
Bail was denied due to the extreme threat to public safety presented by the suspect. A hearing was scheduled for July 8.
Earnest fired at least eight rounds in Congregation Chabad of Poway synagogue on Saturday morning, killing 60-year-old Lori Gilbert-Kaye and wounding three other people, including the synagogue’s rabbi.
But he then stopped when his AR-15 assault rifle apparently jammed. He was rushed by a U.S. military veteran, and a second, off-duty Border Patrol agent followed up, chasing him from the synagogue and into his car.
That agent, Oscar Stewart, said he further distracted the gunman by banging on the vehicle when it appeared it was again attempting to reload and aim the weapon. Stewart also fired at Earnest, missing the attacker but hitting his getaway vehicle.
San Diego County District Attorney Summer Stephan told reporters that Earnest had legally purchased the gun; he wore a tactical vest to the attack and carried five loaded magazines with 10 bullets apiece.
The attacker’s parents – who raised their children to “reject hate” – are horrified by their son’s actions. “To our great shame, he is now part of the history of evil that has been perpetrated on Jewish people for centuries,” they said in their first public statement on the attack. “Our son’s actions were informed by people we do not know, and ideas we do not hold.”
Miraculously, Earnest never got a chance to use those 50 bullets because, as the district attorney told reporters, “Something happened to interrupt his use of that gun,” and he fled instead.
If convicted of murder classified as a hate crime, the gunman would be eligible for life in prison without parole, or the death penalty.
The district attorney said she has not yet decided whether or not to seek the death penalty in this case.