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Suspect in Pittsburgh synagogue shooting pleads not guilty

PITTSBURGH — The suspect in the Pittsburgh synagogue massacre pleaded not guilty to dozens of charges Monday as his new lawyer, a prominent death penalty litigator who represented one of the Boston Marathon bombers, signaled he might be open to a plea deal.

Robert Bowers, a truck driver who authorities say gunned down 11 people at Tree of Life Synagogue, appeared in federal court with attorney Judy Clarke, who expressed hope the case will be resolved without a trial.

Clarke is known for negotiating plea deals that helped some of the nation’s most infamous killers avoid death row, including Unabomber Ted Kaczynski, Atlanta Olympics bomber Eric Rudolph and Arizona shooter Jared Lee Loughner, who killed six people and injured 13 others, including U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords. A jury sentenced marathon bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, whom Clarke represented, to death.

A spokeswoman for federal prosecutors in Pittsburgh has said a decision about whether to pursue the death penalty against Bowers remains under review. Assistant U.S. Attorney Troy Rivetti said in court Monday that if Bowers does opt for a trial, it could last about three weeks, not including any potential penalty phase.

Bowers, who was shackled, said little, giving yes or no answers.

A grand jury on Jan. 29 added 19 counts to the 44 Bowers was already facing. The additional charges include hate crimes violations, obstruction of religious belief and the use of a firearm during crimes of violence.

Bowers, 46, of Baldwin, Pennsylvania, is accused of targeting worshippers from three Jewish congregations when he attacked on Oct. 27 during Sabbath services.

Seven people were wounded, including five police officers.

Donna Coufal, a member of the Dor Hadash congregation that occupies space at Tree of Life, said she attended Monday’s arraignment “to bear witness. It’s been a painful time, but we remain strong as a community.”

Investigators say Bowers posted criticism of a Jewish charity on social media before the attack, claiming the immigrant aid society “likes to bring invaders that kill our people.” Authorities said he raged against Jews as he gunned down his victims, and told investigators “all these Jews need to die.”

Bowers has been jailed in the Butler County Prison, about 35 miles (55 kilometers) north of the shooting scene.

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