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Jury hears testimony about lives of 11 people killed in Pittsburgh synagogue shooting


A jury in Pittsburgh has been hearing about the 11 Jewish worshippers who were killed in 2018. Robert Bowers was convicted in the attack on congregants who had just finished services at the Pittsburgh synagogues. Oliver Morrison of member station WESA listened as the jury prepared to decide life in prison or the death penalty.

OLIVER MORRISON, BYLINE: One of the legal reasons Bowers is eligible for the death penalty is some of his victims were especially vulnerable. Two brothers in their 50s, David and Cecil Rosenthal, had a genetic syndrome that caused intellectual disabilities.

MYRNARD ROSENTHAL: They never learned to read or write and in many ways met the skills never exceeded that of a 5- or 6-year-old.

MORRISON: That was their mother, Myrnard Rosenthal (ph). She spoke in a video played to the jury. Family members like Myrnard testified for three days about the devastating impact of the shooting. The prosecution argued that the jury should consider the uniqueness of each of their 11 lives. Cecil was chatty and outgoing, Myrnard says. He was informally known as the mayor of Squirrel Hill. That's the Jewish neighborhood that they lived in.

ROSENTHAL: We always joked - if you wanted to keep a secret, you would not tell Cecil. But he always managed to know everything that was going on.

MORRISON: Cecil's brother David was shy. David would arrive at the synagogue two hours early. After their family, there was nothing the boys cared about more than participating in religious services at the Tree of Life Synagogue. The janitor would have tea with the boys and help Cecil tie his shoes and do his tie.

ROSENTHAL: You have never seen two more proud individuals when they had the opportunity to participate in a service in front of the congregation.

MORRISON: When David sang the hymns he had memorized, he would still insist on having his hymnal open to the right page, even though he couldn't read. Cecil would carry the Torah around the chapel.

ROSENTHAL: I can't thank God enough for giving me Cecil and David as my sons. I couldn't be more proud to be their mom. My only hope is that they rest in peace. (Crying) May their memories be a blessing.

MORRISON: The Rosenthal family said, before the start of the trial, Robert Bowers deserves the death penalty.

For NPR News, I'm Oliver Morrison. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Oliver Morrison