Defense begins testimony in final phase of Pittsburgh synagogue shooting trial

PITTSBURGH — The prosecution rested its case Wednesday and the defense has started testimony in the final phase of the Pittsburgh synagogue shooting trial.

The jury decided last week that Robert Bowers, who killed 11 worshippers in a Squirrel Hill synagogue in 2018, is eligible for the death penalty.

In the final phase of the trial, family members and survivors had the opportunity to speak for the first time about their loss and grief.

The judge anticipates about two to three weeks before the jury makes its final decision on whether Bowers will be sentenced to life in prison or death.

>>> Tree of Life, community react to guilty verdict in Pittsburgh synagogue shooting trial

The first witness for the defense on Wednesday was Dr. Katherine Porterfield, who talked about Bowers’ early childhood before court paused for the day.

She said Bowers had multiple traumatic life events and circumstances that put him at risk for serious mental illness.

Porterfield returned to the stand Thursday, going into great detail about Bowers’ troubled childhood.

She said that Bowers took an adverse childhood events study and that he had at least seven adverse factors that would indicate a higher likelihood of suicide, physical disease and violence.

Porterfield testified that Bowers had several admissions to psychiatric facilities throughout his childhood and was suicidal.

As an adult, she said that he had financial instability. Medical and dental problems led to opioid use, she said, and his family had concerns that he would kill himself.

“They had a lot of problems in their family and could not mobilize to help him and that really goes back to his childhood,” Porterfield said. “It really begins in childhood for him.”

Porterfield testified that Bowers had multiple, severe chronic traumatic life events and circumstances that put him at risk for the development of serious mental illness.

She said he showed signs of early, serious mental illness and emotional problems and that he did not get the care and intervention he needed and his mental health deteriorated over the course of his life.

On cross-examination, the protection noted that Porterfield has her Ph.D. and not her MD.

The prosecution read Porterfield’s notes, where she said she prefers to spend time and interview with a defendant over a period of time, yet she never talked to or interviewed Bowers and never asked the defense team if she could interview him.

They also questioned that she interviewed distant cousins who had never met Bowers.

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