Prosecution rests case in final phase of Pittsburgh synagogue shooting trial

PITTSBURGH — Jurors returned to the courtroom Wednesday morning as the final phase of the Pittsburgh synagogue shooting trial continues.

Pittsburgh synagogue shooting trial: Complete Coverage

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 have the opportunity to speak for the first time about their loss and grief.

Ten witnesses spoke in court on Tuesday, and lots of tears were shed.

Robin Maher, executive director of the Death Penalty Information Center Director, told Channel 11 it’s likely we will see some repeat witnesses from the defense as they dive deeper into Bowers’ mental health.

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 to take the stand Wednesday was Sharyn Stein, Dan Stein’s wife.

Sharyn said that Stein was a humble person who lived his life simply. He didn’t ask for a lot but people gave him a lot and he responded to that.

On losing her husband, she said, “My world has fallen apart. Danny and I were a team. We were together for 46 years and a part of me is not there now.”

The second person to take the stand was Joseph Stein, Dan’s son, who said he was testifying for himself and his sister.

Joseph said his father taught him right from wrong, responsibility and a good work ethic.

“It’s all a constant reminder,” he said about losing his father. “Today is my birthday. It was always a tradition for us all to have dinner together. Now my dad is not here. I never really realized what true loss is until that person is not there anymore.”

The third witness was Officer Tim Matson, who talked about his injuries.

“At first it was hard to grasp. Seeing all the hardware, I was just wondering, “Will I ever be normal again?’” he said.

He said that at one point, he was so depressed, he didn’t know if he wanted to live.

The next witness was Michele Rosenthal, a sister of David and Cecil Rosenthal.

They were her older brothers and they looked out for her, Michele said.

Her brothers embraced Judaism from a young age, she said. Michele testified that David and Cecil couldn’t read, but knew the hymns by heart and would lead services at the synagogue.

A video statement from Elie Rosenthal, their father, was played in the courtroom.

“I am convinced that losing a child is the most painful and unnatural experience any parent would have to endure. We as parents would have given our lives over a thousand times to have them back with us today,” he said, in part.

The fifth witness to take the stand was Andrea Wedner, Rose Mallinger’s daughter and a survivor.

Wedner said she was a dental hygienist for over 40 years but could not return to work after the shooting due to her injuries.

The doctors described her injuries as severe and non-life threatening but to her, they were devastating and her life would never be the same

Wedner said there was shrapnel throughout her body, which can still be seen on x-rays and remains in her body today.

Wedner said she does not go to services regularly, because can’t go without her mom.

“I’m haunted by what happened to me and what I saw and heard that day,” she said.

The sixth witness to take the stand was Daniel Leger, another survivor.

Leger said that when he was awake enough to know what was going on, he could tell his injuries were serious.

He couldn’t communicate verbally with his wife and would spell words on her hand.

“I spelled out at one point, ‘Let me go,’” he remembered.

He said he wasn’t super aware when he was in the hospital, and said he remembered seeing people above him and thought it was the burial team preparing him for burial.

“I live with this body that doesn’t feel like it’s mine. It feels like someone invaded it and took it over,” Leger said.

“I don’t have the ability to do a lot of the things I used to do and it gets me down. I feel diminished, just very diminished,” he explained toward the end of his testimony. “I’ve often thought it would have been better if I had died that day. It would have relieved a burden on my family.”

The prosecution then rested its case.

The first witness for the defense was Dr. Katherine Porterfield.

Porterfield explained Bowers’ early childhood before court paused for the day, saying Bowers had multiple traumatic life events and circumstances that put him at risk for serious mental illness.

In his first six months of life, his mother, Barbara, was hospitalized, his father, Randall, became increasingly violent and both parents threatened to kill their baby.

No treatment or intervention occurred.

Barbara filed for divorce in 1973 before Bowers was a year old. As a toddler, he had multiple emergency trips to Children’s Hospital and he was admitted for eating laundry detergent.

Porterfield said Barbara told Robert multiple times when he was little she wished he’d never been born.

In summary, Bowers’ early childhood is shaped by trauma. Porterfield said that matters because “When a child gets a huge dose of trauma, it’s very difficult for them to recover.”

If you or someone you know is experiencing mental health effects from the trial, go to 1027healingpartnership.org to find help resources. As always, call 911 to report threats.

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