Accused Poway gunman pleads not guilty to federal hate crime charges

A photo of Lori Gilbert-Kaye at the Chabad of Poway, Calif., May 3, 2019. Photo: Gabrielle Birkner

Marcy Oster

(JTA) — The accused gunman in the shooting at the Chabad of Poway synagogue pleaded not guilty to federal hate crime charges.

John T. Earnest appeared in federal court in San Diego on Tuesday. He was shackled at his wrists and ankles while in court.

Federal prosecutors on Thursday announcing 109 hate crime and other charges against Earnest. The charges against Earnest also include an earlier arson at a nearby mosque. Earnest pleaded not guilty last month to state charges in both cases.

The federal hate crime charges make Earnest eligible for the death penalty if convicted. He could also face the death penalty from the state charges against him in the synagogue attack, which left one woman dead.

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Peter Ko, an assistant U.S. attorney, told the judge that the government had not decided whether to seek the death penalty for the federal charges.

The state and federal cases are expected to continue simultaneously, which reportedly is uncommon.

After the April 27 attack on the synagogue, which killed Lori Gilbert-Kaye, 60, and wounded an 8-year-old girl, her uncle and the rabbi, Earnest called 911 from his car and told a dispatcher what he had done. He said he thought had killed some people, and the he did so because “I’m just trying to defend my nation from the Jewish people…They’re destroying our people,” according to the affidavit. He then told the dispatcher, “the Jewish people are destroying the white race.”