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Prosecutors could seek death penalty for Pittsburgh shooter

North Carolina readers are likely aware of the Oct. 27 mass shooting that claimed the lives of 11 people in a Pittsburgh synagogue. Now, federal prosecutors are taking steps to seek the death penalty against the alleged shooter, 46-year-old Robert Bowers.

According to legal experts, the federal death penalty is reserved for grave offenses, including murder. For example, Cesar Sayoc, the defendant recently charged with sending pipe bombs to former President Barack Obama and others, did not actually kill anyone. As a result, he was not charged with any death-eligible federal crimes and faces a maximum of 48 years in prison. In comparison, Bowers was charged with 22 death-eligible crimes for his alleged actions in Pittsburgh. He is facing 11 counts of obstruction of the exercise of religious beliefs resulting in deaths and 11 counts of use of a firearm to commit murder during and in relation to a crime of violence.

Experts point out that the U.S. Department of Justice has a rigorous review process for death penalty cases. The prosecutors handling the case are required to submit a detailed memo outlining the evidence against the defendant, analyzing whether the alleged crimes rise to the level of a death-eligible offense and recommending whether or not the death penalty is appropriate. The DOJ then reviews the submission and makes a final decision. Factors that could sway the DOJ's decision include the strength of the evidence, the defendant's prior criminal history, whether or not the crime was premeditated and the number of victims involved.

The stakes in a federal murder case are extremely high. A federal criminal defense attorney might be able to ensure a defendant understands all defense options available and work to obtain the best possible outcome.

Source: CNN, "Prosecutors likely to seek death penalty against Pittsburgh shooter," Elie Honig, Oct. 29, 2018

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