A 22-year-old former nursing student has pleaded guilty to the murder of one person and attempted murder of 53 others in a deadly shooting at a Southern California synagogue, ending the possibility of ‘incur the death penalty.
SAN DIEGO – A 22-year-old former nursing student has pleaded guilty to the murder of one person and attempted murder of 53 others in a deadly 2019 shooting at a Southern California synagogue the latest Passover Day, thus ending the possibility of incurring the death penalty.
John T. Earnest pleaded guilty on July 20 to state charges in San Diego Superior Court and then agreed to serve the rest of his life in state prison without the possibility of parole. Sentencing is scheduled for September 30.
In the federal case, the sentence was set for December 28. Defense lawyers and prosecutors also recommend a life sentence, plus 30 years, according to the plea.
Federal prosecutors had previously said they would not seek the death penalty, and Friday’s plea deal finalized that decision. In July, the Justice Department suspended all federal executions after a series of death sentences unprecedented in the Trump administration, although the order does not bar prosecutors from seeking the death penalty. Attorney General Merrick Garland, who said he had reservations about the death penalty, declared the moratorium as officials reviewed government policies and execution protocols.
Earnest opened fire with a semi-automatic rifle on the last day of Passover services in April 2019 at Chabad of Poway, northeast of San Diego. The attack killed Lori Gilbert-Kaye, 60, and injured three others, including an 8-year-old girl and the rabbi, who lost a finger.
After Earnest emptied his initial magazine, several devotees rushed at him. Earnest fled in his car and soon after called 911 and confessed that he had just “blown up a synagogue”. Earnest was apprehended by local law enforcement who found the rifle and additional ammunition in his car.
In his plea on Friday, he admitted that he also set fire to a mosque in Escondido on March 24 with seven people sleeping inside, although no one was injured.
He said he carried out the attacks because he wanted to kill Muslims and Jews.
In May 2019, a federal grand jury indicted Earnest with 113 counts, to which he pleaded guilty on Friday.
“This nation stands in solidarity with the family of Lori Gilbert Kaye and the survivors of these unspeakable acts of terror,” Interim US Attorney Randy S. Grossman said in a statement. “We categorically reject the hatred, racism and prejudice of the accused, and we hope that the conclusion of this case will bring some comfort to all those affected by his heinous crimes.”