Judge denies Tree of Life defense request for religious survey

Robert Bowers, seen here in a drivers license photo, has been identified by police sources as the shooter who killed several people inside Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh's Squirrel Hill neighborhood.

A federal judge denied a request by defense attorneys for Robert Bowers, the man accused of killing 11 people at the Tree of Life four years ago, to conduct a survey of potential jurors to determine their religious affiliation.

U.S. District Judge Robert J. Colville denied the request Monday.

If Bowers, who is scheduled to go to trial in April, is convicted, the government is seeking the death penalty.

Bowers is accused of the Oct. 27, 2018, attack at a Squirrel Hill synagogue.

In August, his attorneys filed a motion asking to conduct a one-question survey of potential jurors to ensure that Catholics, and any other religious groups, are not excluded from the panel.

The defense argued that if Catholics are excluded because they are opposed to capital punishment, the jury would be comprised of a panel more willing to sentence Bowers to death.

The government objected to the request, saying parties are not required to gather religious-affiliation information from prospective jurors.