Man Pleads Guilty to Murder in Deadly Shooting at California Synagogue

In a plea deal that spared him the death penalty, John T. Earnest admitted to killing a woman and injuring three others at a synagogue on the last day of Passover in 2019.,

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A 22-year-old man pleaded guilty on Tuesday to murder in a deadly attack at a synagogue in Southern California on the last day of Passover two years ago, during which he spewed anti-Semitic remarks, fatally shot a 60-year-old woman and injured three others.

In a deal that spared him the death penalty, the man, John T. Earnest, agreed to serve the rest of his life in prison without the possibility of parole for the shooting at Chabad of Poway synagogue in San Diego on April 27, 2019, the San Diego County district attorney’s office said in a statement.

“While we reserved the option of trying this as a death penalty case, life in prison without the possibility of parole for the defendant is an appropriate resolution to this violent hate crime, and we hope it brings a measure of justice and closure to the victims, their families, friends and the wider community,” Summer Stephan, the San Diego County district attorney, said in a statement. She said she had consulted with victims and their relatives before agreeing to the deal.

During a hearing on Tuesday in San Diego Superior Court, Mr. Earnest pleaded guilty to murder, attempted murder and a firearms charge. He also pleaded guilty to arson for setting fire to a mosque in Escondido, Calif., a month before the attack on the synagogue, admitting that both acts were hate crimes, the district attorney’s office said.

Mr. Earnest, who is to be formally sentenced on Sept. 30, is also facing federal charges in connection with the deadly shooting at the synagogue. Federal prosecutors have until Aug. 30 to indicate whether they plan to pursue the death penalty in their case.

According to the authorities, Mr. Earnest entered Chabad of Poway synagogue, about 25 miles north of San Diego, on April 27, 2019, and yelled anti-Semitic slurs at the 40 to 60 people there, screaming that Jews were ruining the world. He then opened fire with an AR-15-style gun, killing 60-year-old Lori Gilbert-Kaye. Among those injured were Yisroel Goldstein, a rabbi who was shot in both hands and lost an index finger, an 8-year-old girl and her 34-year-old uncle.

Attendance at the synagogue that day was larger than usual, with many older congregants there to say Yizkor, a memorial prayer for the dead that is said on Jewish holidays.

Rabbi Goldstein said shortly after the shooting that he could not “erase the moment, and it is going to be embedded there forever.”

“I guarantee you, we will not be intimidated or deterred by terror,” he said in April 2019. “Terror will not win.”

On June 4, Mr. Earnest sent a conditional plea agreement to federal prosecutors for their consideration, according to the San Diego district attorney’s office. Kelly Thornton, the spokeswoman for the U.S. attorney’s office for the Southern District of California, said in a statement on Tuesday that “the decision by the Department of Justice whether to seek the death penalty remains pending.”

A lawyer for Mr. Earnest, John O’Connell of the San Diego County Public Defender’s Office, declined to comment.

Mr. Earnest is scheduled to appear in federal court on Sept. 8, the district attorney’s office said.

The shooting at Chabad of Poway synagogue came after a series of deadly attacks at houses of worship, including the mass shootings at mosques in New Zealand, church bombings in Sri Lanka and the massacre at a synagogue in Pittsburgh, in which a gunman armed with an AR-15-style assault rifle killed 11 people, resulting in one of the deadliest attacks against Jews in the United States.

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