PITTSBURGH — Day eight of the trial against Robert Bowers, the man accused of shooting and killing 11 worshippers at a Squirrel Hill synagogue, continued Thursday with more witnesses taking the stand.
On Wednesday, more police officers took the stand and testified about the final moments of the shooting.
The evidence was graphic, and the testimony was difficult to hear. The prosecution said the details are crucial to making its case that this was a cold, calculated act by Robert Bowers.
A lot of evidence was also presented by the FBI and the Allegheny County Medical Examiner’s Office.
Warning: the details coming out of this trial are difficult to hear and may be upsetting to some.
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.
We have a team of reporters inside the courthouse and have live updates below throughout the day.
UPDATE 3:45 p.m.: Officer Anthony Burke is called to stand
Officer Anthony Burke, one of four officers who was injured on the day of the shooting, is called to the stand. He is the last witness of the day.
“I was at the gym when I got the alert,” Burke said. “I went home to get gear. I met up with the team, forming an emergency entry team led by Andrew Miller.”
Burke said that when he entered, he could hear a female screaming “erratically.”
In an exchange of gunfire with the suspect, Officer Burke was shot in the hand.
“I was more focused on trying to conduct a rescue, focused on getting Tim out,” Officer Burke said. “I didn’t realize I was shot until I tried to grab my rifle. There was a large wound on my hand.”
A tourniquet was placed on Officer Burke’s arm.
“I asked them to put my pistol in my left hand so I could use that,” he said. “I couldn’t stop the bleeding coming from my hand. I was trying to conserve energy. It was painful.”
Officer Burke said they were in the room for a period of time before the second round of gunfire started.
“I heard a male’s voice and I could hear SWAT team members communicating with him,” Burke said. “He stated he was hurt and wanted to give up. He wanted us to come in and get him.”
Officer Timmons began negotiating with the shooter.
“Shooter made statements that he could not stand by and watch these Jews do this to the country,” Burke said. “I mentioned to Saldutte, those statements were concerning and there might be an IED threat or another attack.”
Officer Burke said he was still bleeding.
“After a period of time in the room, I felt woozy from the loss of blood. My arm was completely numb, it was throbbing in pain,” Burke said.
UPDATE 2:57 p.m.: FBI special agent takes stand
Cedric Jefferson, a special agent in the FBI in Washington, D.C., takes the stand.
Jefferson has been a special agent for eight years.
He was assigned to Pittsburgh from 2015 to 2019 and worked out of Charleston and Huntington, West Virginia. He was the team leader for the West Virginia Teams.
Jefferson responded to Bowers’ apartment.
Five firearms were recovered from the apartment and ammunition was found in the bedroom.
Jefferson said there was a “substantial amount of ammunition in that apartment.”
Special agents stayed at the apartment for about eight hours, according to Jefferson. The gun safe was open.
UPDATE 2:36 p.m.: UPMC Presby police officer takes stand
Shawn Gladde, who was a senior police officer at UPMC Presbyterian in 2018, is called to the stand.
Gladde said there are protocols when it comes to gunshot victims who come into the hospital.
Police are responsible for the evidence or bullet fragments that come out of the victim, and the evidence is stored in the police office.
Evidence was collected from individuals being treated at Presby on the day of the shooting.
UPDATE 2:27 p.m.: FBI Laboratory specialist takes stand
Erin Casey, who works in the FBI’s Laboratory Visual Information Specialists Operational Projects Unit, is called to the stand.
Casey documents crime scenes and builds the scenes digitally and accurately. She also adds in evidence trajectory and body locations.
Casey did not go to the scene but studied the data that was sent to her.
She created the scans to a full scale of the synagogue.
UPDATE 1:45 p.m.: Thomas returns to stand after lunch
Curtis Thomas returns to the stand after lunch with the LG Android phone.
It was last logged on Nov. 26, 2018, after investigators figured out the password.
There were nine text messages. All of them were deleted and preserved until the phone ran out of data.
Thomas confirms the user of the phone visited GAB.com from the phone that morning.
A photo with two handguns, a magazine, keys, a wallet, and a tool item with knives and clippers was added to the phone but later deleted.
The defense asked Thomas if there was anything incriminating on the phone.
“Our job is to just pull all the data, we don’t decide what may be important to these investigations,” Thomas said.
UPDATE 12:00 p.m.: Electronics examiner for the FBI takes stand
Curtis Thomas was the fifth witness called to the stand.
Thomas has worked at the FBI for nearly 20 years.
Thomas said he was given an LG Android cell phone from the FBI and was asked to gain access, but locally they couldn’t get through the password.
He testified that the phone was encrypted, therefore they needed to figure out the passcode. It would lock you out if you entered the wrong password over 15 times and would then erase the data if you got to that point.
Thomas said it took 2-3 hours to get the right passcode and the FBI was able to open the device.
UPDATE 11:30 a.m.: FBI forensics expert discusses DNA testing of evidence
Marcy Plaza is the fourth witness to take the stand on Thursday.
Plaza is employed by the FBI in Quantico in forensics and has been in the field for about 15 years.
She testified that DNA testing is a five-step process:
- Collection where they attempt to collect cells on the evidence
- Extraction by putting chemicals on the cells to gain access to the DNA inside
- A test to find out how much DNA was pulled out
- Amplification where millions of copies are made of what was found
- DNA separation where millions of those copies are separated by size to look and analyze
The FBI tested the DNA for all the 11 victims and the defendant
Plaza testified that she looked at the evidence and decided what would be tested for DNA, then reviewed it upon the end.
A report showing her DNA results was shared with the jury and introduced into evidence:
- Bower’s DNA was found on a Glock pistol. Areas on the slide of pistol were swabbed.
- Another Glock tested also had Bowers DNA
- His DNA was also found on a pair of earmuffs and three pairs of safety glasses from his vehicle
- Straps on the AR-15 were swabbed. Bowers was found to have the most DNA on the strap, but there was a smaller amount of Irv Youngers DNA as well as someone else’s
The defense asked about the determination of who decides which areas need to be tested. Plaza said it’s up to the biologists, most likely areas that a shooter would have handled, like the textured portions of the grip, trigger, etc. She said there was also staining and that’s why they tested the strap.
UPDATE 9:27 a.m.: Comcast employee talks about Bowers’ records
Matthew Reid, supervisor of corporate investigations & security for Comcast, is today’s third witness.
Reid said he reviewed records pertaining to Robert Bowers.
He said Bowers had high-speed internet service with Comcast starting on Nov. 9, 2016 and disconnected on Nov. 3, 2018.
UPDATE 9:16 a.m.: Tree of Life president testifies
The second witness to take the stand Thursday is Alan Hausman, a member of Tree of Life.
Hausman has been with the congregation since 2010 and is currently the president of the congregation.
Hausman said Tree of Life would rent space in the building for any events for Jewish holidays and celebrations.
New Light and Dor Hadash had long-term agreements with Tree of Life.
“We had a large, underutilized building. Other congregations were in need of space, and we were in need of money to assist in keeping up the space,” Hausman said.
He said they were trying to come up with a metropolitan model by housing multiple congregations under one roof.
“We had lunches together, shared services together. It was a very positive experience,” Hausman said.
He was on the board when they voted on the leases with both other congregations.
The three-year lease agreement between Tree of Life and Dor Hadash started in December 2017. Hausman said the lease was terminated after the attack.
UPDATE 9:05 a.m.: Co-President of New Light Congregation takes stand
Witness No. 1 on Thursday is Stephen Cohen, Co-President of New Light Congregation
The congregation rented their space from Tree of Life starting in 2017 after the building they owned became a financial burden. To keep the congregation together, they sold the building and moved into Tree of Life.
Sept. 12, 2017 is when the lease, which was entered into evidence, started. They moved in on Nov. 5, 2017.
The lease was they would rent the space until 2020 with a probability of extension.
One of the conditions of the lease was if the building was unusable for more than 120 days we could terminate the lease
“The building was unusable because of the attack,” Cohen said.
New Light is an agreement new agreement with another congregation.
Cohen said New Light owns a cemetery in Shaler and plots are open to anyone of the Jewish faith.Richard Gottfried and Melvin Wax are buried in their cemetery.
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