Synagogue Shooting

Pittsburgh synagogue shooting trial: Lawyers say Robert Bowers has schizophrenia, epilepsy

PITTSBURGH — The man accused in the Tree of Life shooting massacre has been diagnosed with “schizophrenia, epilepsy, and structural and functional impairments of his brain,” according to a legal document filed by his defense team.

Robert Bowers faces the death penalty if convicted of murdering 11 people inside the Squirrel Hill synagogue back in October of 2018.

In a filing dated March 20, defense attorneys revealed the mental diagnosis, which they are prepared to present during Bowers’ penalty phase if convicted.

The legal document was filed as an opposition to a government motion that asks the court to allow prosecutors to have their own mental health experts evaluate Bowers.

“For the government to fairly develop rebuttal evidence, its experts should have the opportunity to independently examine the defendant,” the motion reads.

The government’s motion asks the court to allow their mental health experts to conduct examinations on “multiple days” without attorneys for either side present.

Prosecutors write that “the examinations shall be limited to testing deemed necessary by the government’s experts to develop evidence that will rebut or confirm the defense experts’ anticipated testimony, including the existence of a diagnosable mental illness, its identification, and the validity of any diagnoses ... or if another diagnosis is more accurate or whether the defendant suffers from no diagnosable mental health condition at all.”

The defense team’s counter filing states that the government’s request is a “broad-ranging, invasive, and constitutionally problematic investigation into Mr. Bowers’ life, mind, and body.”

The legal document asks the court to deny it “in its entirety,” but otherwise makes specific requests should the government be permitted the chance to have its own experts evaluate Bowers.

“They want to know the questions that are going to be asked of the defendant, so that he does not have an admission of some nature which would hurt him in the penalty phase,” said WPXI legal analyst Phil DiLucente. “There’s a phrase the defense used in this motion to the court, they said this is a ‘matter of life or death.’”

DiLucente, who reviewed the legal documents, explained that the defense team feels the government’s request could infringe on Bowers’ Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination, and his Sixth Amendment right to an attorney.

The defense team further requests protections for Bowers, for instance, they’re asking that any evaluation not be recorded.

It’s unclear when the judge could issue a ruling, but DiLucente predicts it will happen “in short order,” as the trial is expected to begin next month.

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