(May 15, 2019 / JNS) John Earnest, the 19-year-old man charged with killing congregant Lori Gilbert-Kaye, 60, and wounding three people in the Chabad of Poway synagogue in Southern California on April 27, pleaded not guilty to federal hate crimes on Tuesday.
Earnest spoke twice during the hearing—once to acknowledge his name and once to agree with his court-appointed attorney’s decision not to seek bail.
Prosecutor Peter Ko said the government had not made a final decision regarding whether or not to seek the death penalty. He reaffirmed plans to try the case separately, though simultaneously with state charges of murder and attempted murder, which could also expose Earnest to the death penalty.
Last week, a federal affidavit described Earnest as hate-filled, and harboring anti-Jewish and anti-Muslim sentiment. He had said that he was inspired by the shooting of elderly Jews at the Pittsburgh Tree of Life synagogue on Oct. 27, 2018, and by the recent attacks on mosques in New Zealand, and posted a manifesto expounding on his views online.
Court documents noted that Earnest called 911 after his attack and told the operator he “just shot up a synagogue … because Jewish people are destroying the white race.”
Earnest also pleaded not guilty to murdering Kaye, as well as to state and federal charges of attempted arson of a mosque in the city of Escondido.