Suspect in synagogue shooting pleads not guilty in federal court

Screen shot: NBC7 San Diego

May 15 (UPI) — A 19-year-old man accused of a shooting in a San Diego-area synagogue that killed a woman and injured three others pleaded not guilty to 109 charges during his first appearance in federal court Tuesday.

John Timothy Earnest has been accused of federal hate crimes committed during his alleged anti-Semitic rampage at the synagogue in Poway, 22 miles north of San Diego. In federal court before U.S. Magistrate Judge Michael Berg in San Diego.

On April 30, he pleaded not guilty in San Diego Superior Court on charges of murder, attempted murder and arson.

State and federal prosecutors have not decided whether to seek capital murder, meaning the death penalty. Because state and federal governments are treated as separate “sovereigns,” double jeopardy doesn’t apply.

Cameras are not allowed in federal courtrooms but the San Diego Superior Court appearance was televised.

In the federal case, a preliminary hearing was set for May 28 and an arraignment is scheduled for June 4.

His attorney is Kathryn Nester, the new executive director of Federal Defenders of San Diego, which contracts with the court for public defense services.

“You have a very highly qualified and highly capable attorney … It is in your best interest to cooperate fully with her,” Berg told Earnest.

Members of Earnest’s family were in the courtroom.

The federal charges include 54 counts of obstruction of free exercise of religious beliefs using a dangerous weapon resulting in death, bodily injury and attempts to kill, and 54 counts of hate crimes under the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act. In addition, there is one charge of damage to a religious property using fire connected to arson at Dar-ul-Arquam mosque in Escondido on March 24.

Fifty-four people attended services on the last day of Passover at the Chabad of Poway on April 27 during the shooting.

Lori Gilbert-Kaye, 60, died and Rabbi Yisroel Goldstein, 57, lost an index finger. Also wounded were Noya Dahan, 8, and uncle Almog Peretz, 34.

After the shooting, Earnest called 911 from his Honda Civic, saying according to the complaint: “I just shot up a synagogue. I’m just trying to defend my nation from the Jewish people. … They’re destroying our people. … I opened fire at a synagogue. I think I killed some people.”

Earnest, who wore navy inmate garb and shackles at the ankles and wrists, looked at a copy of the complaint on the table in front of him as the charges were read.

He responded to the judge only with answers of “yes.”

He is being held without bail in state custody.


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