Jurors hear from those who knew Pittsburgh synagogue shooter when he was a child

PITTSBURGH — The defense continues to present witnesses in the final phase of the Pittsburgh synagogue shooting trial.

The jury has decided 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.

On Tuesday, the defense asked the judge to exhume the body of Randall Bowers to conduct DNA testing to confirm that he’s the father of Robert Bowers.

It came after the prosecution during cross-examination questioned whether he is the biological father.

>>> Bowers’ defense team files motion to exhume his father’s body to prove paternity

The defense says it’s critical to show that the mental illness his father suffered from was passed down to him.

The defense writing, “Despite the extensive documentation and historical evidence that Randall Bowers is the biological father of Robert Bowers, in order to undermine the genetic basis for defendant Robert Bowers’ serious mental illness, the government has interjected into the case its speculative theory that Randall Bowers is not the father of Robert Bowers.”

In court Tuesday, the defense continued calling witnesses. Among them, a childhood friend Frank Ray, who testified that Bowers was never violent or aggressive but obsessed with making homemade pipe bombs.

Ray also said he owes his life to Bowers. While they were swimming one day, he started going under and Bowers grabbed him and pulled him to shore.

“I remember that moment because I’m fairly certain I wouldn’t have made it to shore if he wasn’t there,” Ray said.

Another friend, Kelly McKinley, also testified about visiting Bowers in the hospital on several occasions after he set himself on fire with a cigarette and grain alcohol. It’s unclear if it was an accident or a suicide attempt. Mckinley said Bowers couldn’t talk but wrote messages to her.

“He wrote to me, ‘I love you,’” McKinley said.

Defense Attorney: Were you surprised by that?

“Very. I did not expect that because I did not know him. I never really spoke with him until then,” McKinley responded.

McKinley, who also described when she and Bowers ran from his mother’s car so he wouldn’t have to go back to the psychiatric unit at St. Francis Hospital, said she never had any contact with Bowers after high school.

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