Calif. Synagogue Gunman Hears His Fate

John T. Earnest gets life without parole for killing one person, injuring 3 in 2019 Poway shooting
By Jenn Gidman,  Newser Staff
Posted Oct 1, 2021 3:31 PM CDT
Judge Won't Let Synagogue Gunman Speak at Sentencing
Hannah Kaye pauses to compose herself before giving a victim impact statement during John T. Earnest's sentencing hearing in Superior Court Thursday in San Diego.   (Nelvin C. Cepeda/The San Diego Union-Tribune via AP)

Before John T. Earnest was sentenced Thursday for fatally gunning down one person and injuring three others, including a young girl, in a 2019 shooting at a Southern California synagogue, his lawyer asked if he could make a statement. The response of San Diego Superior Court Judge Peter Deddeh in San Diego Superior Court: hard pass. "I'm not going to let him use this as a platform to add to his celebrity," Deddeh said of the 22-year-old gunman before giving him life in prison without parole, reports the AP. Citing Earnest's probation report, comments he'd made while being arrested, and hand gestures made to the crowd during a past hearing, Deddeh went on to say he didn't want to give the gunman a "political forum" in which to spew his white supremacist views.

The gunman, 19 at the time, burst into the Chabad of Poway synagogue on April 27, 2019, the last day of Passover, hurling antisemitic slurs before opening fire with an AR-15-style rifle, killing 60-year-old Lori Gilbert Kaye and injuring three others: an 8-year-old girl, her 34-year-old uncle, and Rabbi Yisroel Goldstein. Earnest pleaded guilty last month to a 117-count indictment, thereby avoiding the death penalty.

Who Judge Deddeh did allow to speak at Thursday's hearing: 13 victims and family members affected by the shooting. Earnest was instructed to listen to the statements while sitting at a table in front of them, his "unmoving back" to the speakers, per the New York Times. Kaye's husband of 32 years, Howard, called the gunman "evil," reports CNN; her sister told Earnest she hoped he would "rot in prison." Kaye's daughter, Hannah Kaye, who was with her parents at the synagogue that day, spoke last, recalling their last moments of peace before the gunman showed up.

"Suddenly, in an instant, the earth literally shifted," she told the court, per the Times. Earnest—said by prosecutors to have been inspired by the Tree of Life synagogue shooting in Pittsburgh the previous year, as well as shootings at two New Zealand mosques—has also admitted that he set fire to a mosque in Escondido, Calif., in March 2019 to kill Muslims and Jews; no one was injured in that attack. He's due to be sentenced for those charges in December, which could bring him a life sentence plus 30 years. (Read more synagogue shooting stories.)

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