Forensic pathologist, SWAT officers testify in Pittsburgh Synagogue Shooting Trial

PITTSBURGH — Day Six of the trial against Robert Bowers, the man accused of shooting and killing 11 worshippers at a Squirrel Hill synagogue, continued Tuesday with more witnesses taking the stand.

Law enforcement and medics who were among the first on the scene of the shooting, including SWAT Officer Michael Saldutte and tactical paramedic Eric Barazotto, testified Monday.


Channel 11 has a sketch artist inside the courtroom | Click here to see photos from throughout the trial

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 3:30 p.m.: Pittsburgh SWAT officer John Persin testifies

John Persin, a Pittsburgh SWAT officer who also works with motorcycle patrol is now testifying.

Persin was at home when he was notified about the SWAT situation and he responded to the shooting. He made entry into the building.

“We began searching for the shooter. I was with a small unit of SWAT operators,” Persin recalled.

Persin remembers finding Andrea Wedner, Rose Mallinger’s daughter.

“She was crying, hysterical, she had a gunshot wound to her arm and was crying that her mother was dead,” Persin said. “She was under the body of her deceased mother.”

“Memories that kind of stick with me. They invade my thoughts every day, the violence, the smell,” said Persin.

Persin was assisting in the search for the suspect.

“We called looking for K9s or technology looking to help clear the building,” Persin said. “They weren’t available, so we decided to proceed without the extra help. We prioritize the lives of hostages over ourselves. We decided it was time for us to go.”

Persin said he could hear gunshots, which was the first exchange of gunfire police had with Bowers.

UPDATE 2:50 p.m.: Forensic pathologist Dr. Todd Luckasevic takes the stand

Dr. Todd Luckasevic, who worked for Allegheny County in 2018, is now testifying.

Luckasevic conducted autopsies on Bernice Simon, Sylvan Simon and David Rosenthal. He said all three dies from rifle wounds.

Bernice Simon, 84, died from a single rifle wound to the trunk.

Sylvan Simon, 86, was shot a total of four times.

David Rosenthal, 54, was shot twice.

UPDATE 2:20 p.m.: Another forensic pathologist, Dr. Baiyng Xu, testifies

Witness No. 3 Tuesday is Dr. Baiyng Xu, who works as a forensic pathologist at the Allegheny County Medical Examiner’s Office.

Xu is an associate medical examiner and has been there for more than 15 years. He received his medical degree in 1982 in China.

He did autopsies for Rose Malinger, Richard Gottfried, Jerry Rabinowitz, and Joyce Fienberg. He said the cause of death for all four victims he examined are rifle wounds:

Joyce Fienberg, 75, was shot two times in her left arm, once in her abdomen and once in her left thigh.

Richard Gottfried, 65, was shot a total of seven times, including in the chest, pelvic area and wrist.

Rose Malinger, 97, was shot in the face and arm.

Jerry Rabinowitz, 66, was shot in the back of his head and in his torso.

Xu said all of four of them were in good health prior to the shooting.

UPDATE 11:05 a.m.: Forensic pathologist Dr. Ashton Ennis takes the stand

Dr. Ashton Ennis, who works as a forensic pathologist, is on the stand.

He currently works for a company in Pennsylvania, but still performs autopsies. He previously worked for Allegheny County Medical Examiner’s Office for five years and has built programs to educate students.

He is certified in forensic pathology, and broadly determines the manner and cause of death.

He’s been a forensic pathologist for about 11 years.

When he was at Allegheny County ME’s Office, he would perform autopsies and create reports. He’s performed thousands of autopsies. He has examined a variety of gunshot wounds on bodies from long-gun rifles, pistols, etc., including different lengths of range.

The prosecution offers Dr. Ennis as an expert in forensic pathology.

Ennis says the process of an autopsy begins in his office as he gets information from the scene investigators. This is vital information on what condition the body may come in.

Once they get to the body, they will examine it, then wash the body and examine it again.

They will also X-ray the body, will scan it from the head to the toes. This happens when the body is clothed so it’s before anyone examines the body.

After everything is examined in the body, they take out each organ and dissect those, and look for signs of disease or injury.

They document any clothing, marks on the body, outside and inside, and any personal artifacts, plus the manner and cause of death.

Not all autopsies are about crime or criminal investigations.

Ennis conducted autopsies as part of the investigation into Robert Bowers.

He did four of the autopsies.

He heard what had happened in the media. He says he texted one of the people he works with, asking where they wanted him. He was not on call, but knew the gravity of the work and that they would have a place for him that day.

Ennis says he was not the only one to do forensic pathologies. He believes there were two others that worked on the victims. They all worked at the same time.

“It’s much more complicated than a typical day at the office,” Ennis says.

It was much more work because he had four gunshot victims in a day.

“It made for a very busy day,” he says.

Gunshot cases are more complicated, typically.

Images and X-rays are entered as evidence in the courtroom.

Of the four victims Ennis did autopsies for, three had rifle wounds to the head; all of them were shot more than once.

  • Cause of death for Cecil Rosenthal was rifle wounds to the head and torso, manner of death was homicide.
  • Cause of death for Dan Stein was rifle wounds to the head, neck and extremities, manner of death was homicide.
  • Cause of death for Irving Younger was rifle wounds to the head, torso and left thigh, manner of death was homicide.
  • Cause of death for Melvin Wax was rifle wounds to the torso and extremities, manner of death was homicide.

UPDATE 9:50 a.m.: Pittsburgh SWAT Officer Miller recalls Officer Matson getting shot, taking Bowers into custody

Miller says you have to ascend five stairs to the next classroom.

“The door was closed, it opened inward,” he says. “It was dark.”

Miller was with officers Matson, Burke, Persin and Saldutte.

He would have been the last to approach the room, he says.

Miller says Matson entered, got a few steps in and got shot. Saldutte immediately returned fire and Miller started returning fire, too.

“Mr. Bowers shot first, without a doubt,” Miller says.

Miller says it was loud and when the gunfire erupted there was a bunch of smoke.

“Inside the room, there was a drop ceiling with particle board and that kicked up a lot of dust and debris,” he says. “You couldn’t see anything in the room. It was like shining your headlights in the fog. You just couldn’t see.”

Miller had to turn off his light and he could see the muzzle flash in front of him and directly to his left

“There was a black wall locker and the door had swung open and I could see the muzzle flash behind that locker door and it gave me a flash to aim,” he says.

Because he is left-handed, it was difficult to maneuver his rifle. “I didn’t want to get shot,” he says. “I didn’t want to die.”

He could feel Saldutte and Matson moving behind him. Saldutte kicked him, which he says was them trying to get out of the room.

“They would have been to the right of me because I moved into the left side on the other wall,” he says.

He was about one step into the room and one step to the left. The muzzle flash moved, and he paused and tried to figure out where Bowers was in the room, but he couldn’t see even if he flashed his white light into the room. Then the flash moved to the right. Saldutte stopped shooting and that’s when Miller felt the kick on his leg. “I believe he ran out of ammunition in his magazine,” Miller says. “I still had rounds.”

“I could just feel him trying to self-rescue, to get himself out of the room. I could feel him brushing up behind me,” Miller says.

When he felt the other officers were out of the room, Miller stopped firing and got out of the room as well. He went into the hallway and landing, and, at that point, there were numerous SWAT officers in the hall. “I had Officer Matson’s vest in my hands, trying to drag him down the hallway. He’s not light,” Miller says.

The first round had hit him in the knee, Miller says, and he immediately went to the ground.

“The fire was focused on him, so I knew he was in serious condition and had been shot multiple times. He fell immediately. The fire directed at him left no doubt in my mind he was seriously, seriously injured,” Miller said.

We started peeling off his armor and helmet to get an assessment of where he was injured. He had a bullet wound on the right side of his head, but he was still talking, which was surprising.

“I didn’t think someone could survive that wound,” Miller says.

He was screaming and they were all screaming at him to get up. Matson was saying to let him sit up, Miller says, and that’s how they got his helmet and armor off.

It took a lot of people to “daisy chain” him down the steps to get him to medical attention, Miller says. Each person took a piece of him, a leg and arm, to get him down to help. They got him to the second level, where the medics were.

Miller ran back up to the third floor to try to get into the fight, he says. Other SWAT officers had engaged the actor again.

Miller took up position behind Officer Timmons and waited. He says he didn’t fire in the second volley of gunfire. He says he heard yelling from the room, then communication between Bowers and Timmons. He says he was about eight feet from the room.

“He said he had to do it. ‘Jews are the children of Satan and they are murdering our children,’” Miller says that’s what he heard Bowers say when he was asked why he did it.

Bowers crawled out of the room head first. They could see his hands first, then you could see his whole body and there was concern he still had more weapons, Miller says.

Eventually, we could see a firearm on his back waist, a black semi-automatic pistol, Miller says. Miller told Timmons he had flex cuffs on him and he could handcuff Bowers. Miller saw the pistol and took it and put it on the floor of the hallway. Miller had blood from Officer Matison’s injuries on his hands. When he started taking control of Bowers, he also got Bowers’ blood on him. Another officer helped him handcuff Bowers because the blood was causing his hands to slip.

“He’s the man sitting at the defense table with the black sweater on,” Miller says when asked if the man they took into custody is in the courtroom.

They moved Bowers into a hallway and a classroom down the hallway. Then they searched him and took another gun off his ankle, a couple of magazines, He also had an ammo pouch, Miller says.

A radio communication from Miller is played in the courtroom.

“We have the actor, addition firearm in his left ankle pistol.”

He wanted them to know they took additional firearms off this person and he needed to be seen by medics, Miller says.

They couldn’t move him past where the shootout had happened. There was a fire escape in the room where they took Bowers and medics came up there to render aid to Bowers, Miller says.

Several photos are shown in court, including Miller’s view during the gunfight, the view looking to the stairway outside of the room where the shooting took place, Matson’s armor, helmet and rifle, and weapons taken from Bowers.

“For Officer Matson, he had no way of seeing that person in that area,” Miller says of the room where the firefight took place. “No way to see until that first shot fired.”

Miller did not immediately leave the scene.

“That’s what we do, that’s what we train for,” he says. “Those are my teammates.”

When the defense cross-examined Miller, they asked about Bowers yelling from the room, “I had to do it.”

They asked exactly what he said about Jews as he crawled from the room.

Upon redirect by the prosecution, Miller said Bowers was trying to get SWAT officers’ attention, then once he got to the threshold, it was more like a talking level, not screaming. Rather he was raising his voice when he was in the corner.

UPDATE 9:23 a.m.: Testimony begins

The trial has started for the day. Andrew Miller, a Pittsburgh SWAT officer, returns to the stand.

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