2nd day of suppression hearing in Tree of Life synagogue attack focuses on suspect’s medical treatment – TribLIVE

Posted By on October 18, 2021

As soon as the man accused of killing 11 people at the Tree of Life synagogue building in Squirrel Hill was placed in an ambulance the morning of Oct. 27, 2018, a Pittsburgh homicide detective said he read the suspect his Miranda rights.

Immediately, the detective testified Wednesday, Robert Bowers invoked his right to remain silent and have an attorney present for questioning.

He stated to me he believed he should talk to a lawyer first before giving us any statement, Detective Robert Shaw said.

From that point forward, the detective said he did not ask the suspect any other questions relative to the attack.

Once he lawyered up, Im not going to ask him anything incriminating, Shaw said. Once he invoked his rights, it has to be respected and observed.

Defense attorneys have asked Senior U.S. District Judge Donetta Ambrose to suppress statements made by their client that day, including several he made as he was being taken into custody in which he said that all these Jews needed to die.

They argued in a motion filed on the matter that any statements made by Bowers were coerced by officers and not made voluntarily, and that anything said by him during the course of medical treatment should not be used against him.

In light of Mr. Bowers assertion of his rights to silence and counsel, all communications initiated by officers while Mr. Bowers was receiving medical treatment or that officers overheard from Mr. Bowers while he was receiving medical treatment should be suppressed, the defense wrote.

The prosecution argued that Bowers was not yet in custody when he made the statements to officers about his motivation for committing the crime, and that they were unsolicited and spontaneous.

(N)otwithstanding the fact that Bowers was shot and injured he remained conscious, oriented and responsive, the government wrote in a response. There is no evidence that his will was overborne by law enforcement.

A hearing on the suppression motion began Tuesday and concluded Wednesday. Bowers, 49, of Baldwin, did not attend after his attorneys waived his presence last week.

Ambrose is giving both sides time to review the transcript of the hearing and file additional briefs before she makes a decision.

Over the course of the two-day hearing, prosecutors from the U.S. Attorneys office and the defense called several law enforcement officers and paramedics to testify about the chaotic nature of the scene inside the synagogue that day, as well as the details of how Bowers was taken into custody. The synagogue at Shady and Wilkins avenues was home to Tree of Life-Or LSimcha, Dor Hadash and New Life congregations.

Throughout their questioning of witnesses, Bowers defense attorneys, including Assistant Public Defenders Elisa Long and Ashwin Cattamanchi, asked repeatedly whether their client was in pain while being questioned.

Several witnesses answered that question differently.

He wasnt in agony or screaming, Shaw said.

FBI Agent Matthew Patcher, who also was in the ambulance, previously said Bowers was groaning and appeared to be in pain but that he was trying to will the pain away.

He was in pain, obviously, from a few of the spots that I touched yelling and cursing, testified Gregory Tersine, a Pittsburgh paramedic attached to the SWAT team who examined Bowers at the synagogue and rode with him to the hospital.

Another paramedic, Rizieri Valles, said that he and another paramedic packed Bowers gunshot wounds with gauze, which can be painful.

He described the suspect as in a daze, with a blank stare while it was happening.

While Bowers was being taken to Allegheny General Hospital on the North Side, Pittsburgh paramedic Anthony DeSantis described the patient as being in stable condition.

He wasnt yelling or screaming, DeSantis said.

Bowers was conscious and able to talk and provide biographical information, he said.

During DeSantis testimony, the prosecution played video taken from a Pittsburgh police officers body camera during the ambulance ride. Shaw testified that body camera video did not capture him reading the suspect his Miranda rights.

It did capture DeSantis asking Bowers medical questions, as well as his name. Shaw also asked similar questions. In addition, officers could be heard asking the suspect whether there were any items at the synagogue or at Bowers residence that could harm investigators.

Bowers said there were not, but he told them the weapons he had that day, including a shotgun in his car, an assault-style AR-15 and three handguns.

Shaw said that those questions were asked out of a concern for public safety and not as part of any interrogation.

The detective also testified that he used his cellphone to take pictures of Bowers and his injuries both in the ambulance and at the hospital.

In the images displayed for the court, Bowers is lying on a gurney covered by a sheet or blanket and his hands were on his stomach, restrained by black flex-cuffs. His face had a small stream of blood running down it. His left arm had a tourniquet wrapped near the shoulder, and his elbow, which had been shot, was under a thick bandage.

An image from inside the hospital showed what appeared to be a bullet wound in his lower left hip.

On cross-examination by Long, Shaw admitted that he built a rapport with Bowers both in the ambulance and at the hospital, but he said his intentions werent to convince Bowers to waive his right to an attorney.

It doesnt have be adversarial. Im not judge and jury, Shaw said.

But Long continued, Once a rapport is established, you can get more information?

Well, not after theyve invoked their rights, Shaw replied.

He characterized Bowers as responsive and polite.

He just seemed like a cooperative, nice, normal guy, Shaw said.

The detective said he read the suspect his Miranda warnings again at the hospital, but again Bowers chose not to talk about the crime.

Paula Reed Ward is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Paula by email at pward@triblive.com or via Twitter .

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2nd day of suppression hearing in Tree of Life synagogue attack focuses on suspect's medical treatment - TribLIVE

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