Many Texas residents have probably heard that a man has been charged in connection with the mass shooting at a Pittsburgh synagogue that claimed 11 lives on Oct. 27. The man faces 22 federal counts that carry the death penalty, and the U.S. attorney assigned to the case has asked the Department of Justice to allow the death sentence to be imposed. While the death penalty can be imposed for a number of crimes including murder, treason and espionage, only three federal inmates have been executed since 1988.
The DOJ will make its decision after rigorously reviewing the evidence. Factors that will be considered include the amount of planning involved, the way in which the crimes were carried out, the motive, the number of victims and the impact the shooting is likely to have on the local community. Most legal experts expect the DOJ to approve the imposition of the death penalty as it did in the case of the shooter who was sentenced to death after being convicted of killing nine people in a Charleston church in 2015.
If the DOJ acts as expected, the trial will proceed to a second phase if the jury finds Bowers guilty of one or more federal crimes that carry the death penalty. During this second phase, attorneys will point out mitigating and aggravating factors to the jury. Prosecutors in these situations generally remind juries of the heinous nature of the crimes and the amount of planning and premeditation involved.
Experienced criminal defense attorneys would likely seek to resolve federal cases that could result in the imposition of the death penalty whenever possible. However, they could also advocate fiercely on behalf of their clients during the second phase of a death penalty trial. The testimony of friends and family members could elicit sympathy in some jurors, and questions about the mental health of individuals who committed terrible acts may raise doubts in others.