Calif. synagogue shooting suspect faces 109 federal charges
The suspect in last month’s shooting at a synagogue in Poway, California, now faces more than a hundred federal civil rights and hate crime charges, according to federal prosecutors.
On Thursday, US Attorney for the Southern District of California Robert Brewer said prosecutors filed a new criminal complaint against 19-year-old John T. Earnest.
Earnest is accused of carrying out the deadly shooting at the Chabad of Poway synagogue that killed 60-year-old Lori Gilbert Kaye and injured three others, including the rabbi and and 8-year-old girl. He is also suspected of arson at a mosque in nearby Escondido in late March.
“Our actions today are inspired by our desire to achieve justice for all of the victims and their families,” Brewer said at a news conference.
The new criminal complaint charges Earnest with 109 new counts — including 54 counts of obstruction of free exercise of religious beliefs resulting in death and bodily injury and involving the attempt to kill, Brewer said.
“That’s one count for every person in the synagogue on April 27, including 12 children,” Brewer said, adding that each of the counts is “death penalty-eligible.”
Earnest faces an additional 54 hate crime counts for each person in the synagogue, and another charge of damage to religious property in connection with the case of arson at the Escondido mosque.
Officials said that federal, state and local authorities had been working in concert since the burning of the mosque.
“The complaint alleges the defendant violently targeted members of the synagogue and the mosque for no other reason than his hatred of the Jewish people and those of the Muslim faith,” Brewer told reporters.
“Every citizen, no matter their race or religion — all of our community members have the right to worship and live in peace,” he said. “As alleged, the defendant wanted to destroy those individual fundamental rights when he attempted to burn down a mosque and violently kill innocent people who were simply gathered to worship.”
Prosecutors: Both state and federal cases will go ahead
Earnest was arraigned in San Diego County Superior Court last week on charges that included one count of murder and three counts of attempted murder in connection to last month’s deadly shooting at the Poway synagogue. His public defender entered a not-guilty plea on Earnest’s behalf and denied the allegations.
As part of the murder charge, Earnest was accused of intentionally killing Kaye because of her religion, which could also potentially lead to the death penalty in California.
Prosecutors expect both the federal and state cases to move forward, Brewer said. Earnest will appear in federal court next week.
As part of the federal case, prosecutors referenced an open-letter posted online just before the shooting that bore Earnest’s name. The author of that manifesto admitted to setting the fire at the Escondido Mosque, the complaint said.
CNN has previously reported the letter was filled with anti-Semitic and white nationalist sentiments, and the author talked about planning the attack in Poway, citing as inspiration the gunman in last year’s deadly shooting at the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh — and the shooter who killed congregants at two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand.
CNN’s Stella Chan contributed to this report.