U.S. to put murderer to death as federal executions spree continues

By Jonathan Allen

(Reuters) – The U.S. government plans to execute William LeCroy, a convicted rapist and murderer, on Tuesday, the sixth in a spate of federal executions after a long hiatus in capital punishment.

The Department of Justice says it will kill LeCroy using lethal injections of pentobarbital, a barbiturate, at its execution chamber in Terre Haute, Indiana.

Under President Donald Trump, who took office in early 2017 and has long been an outspoken advocate for capital punishment, the federal government has executed more men than all of Trump’s predecessors combined going back to 1963.

Another execution is planned for Thursday, when Christopher Vialva, a convicted murderer, is set to become the first Black man to face the federal death penalty under Trump.

Trump’s administration ended an informal 17-year-hiatus in carrying out the death sentence after announcing last year it would use a new one-drug lethal-injection protocol, replacing the three-drug protocol used in the last federal execution in 2003.

The new protocol revived long-running legal challenges to lethal injections. While a U.S. District Court judge, Tanya Chutkan, in Washington, D.C., last month sided with condemned men who sued the government, a three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia said the judge had made “insufficient findings and conclusions” in blocking the execution of Keith Nelson over an issue related to federal safety law on prescription drugs.

Chutkan has previously issued multiple orders halting planned executions while litigation continued, but which were soon overturned by the U.S. Supreme Court, whose conservative majority said that legal challenges to pentobarbital injections, which are also used by several state governments to execute prisoners, were unlikely to prevail.

On Sunday, Chutkan declined to halt this week’s executions, saying the government’s violation of prescription laws did not itself amount to “irreparable harm.” She also ruled that the question of whether a condemned man would still be conscious after injection of the caustic drug and suffer agony as his lungs filled with bloody fluid prior to death was “one upon which reasonable minds could differ.”

LeCroy was convicted and sentenced to death in Georgia in 2004 for the carjacking, rape and murder of Joann Tiesler, a 30-year-old nurse, after breaking into her home. He was caught two days later in Tiesler’s vehicle at the U.S.-Canadian border with notes scribbled on the back of a torn map, according to prosecutors.

“Please, please, please forgive me Joanne,” read one note by LeCroy, who misspelled the victim’s name. “You were an angel and I killed you. Now I have to live with that and I can never go home. I am a vagabond and doomed to hell.”

(Reporting by Jonathan Allen; Editing by Leslie Adler)

UK court lifts bar on evidence transfer over Islamic State ‘Beatles’

LONDON (Reuters) – Britain’s Supreme Court on Wednesday lifted a bar which prevented the government from giving evidence to U.S. authorities about an alleged Islamic State execution squad, nicknamed “the Beatles”, after reassurances were given that the men would not face the death penalty.

The U.S. Department of Justice is seeking the extradition of Britons Alexanda Kotey and El Shafee Elsheikh, who are accused of the killing and torture of Western hostages in Syria.

U.S. Attorney General William Barr said last week that U.S. prosecutors would not seek the death penalty against the men or carry out executions if they were imposed, an issue which had been a stumbling block for Britain handing over captured militants.

In March, Britain’s Supreme Court had ruled that data protection laws meant Britain could not provide material to the United States or other foreign countries in cases which could lead to a death penalty. That decision followed legal action brought by Elsheikh’s mother, Maha El Gizouli.

The British courts imposed a block on the transfer of evidence while her case was ongoing. But the Supreme Court said it had released an order on Wednesday which formally ended El Gizouli’s action and thus ended the legal prohibition.

“The order concludes the proceedings in the Supreme Court, which means that the stay or the stop on providing material to the U.S. government is removed,” a court spokeswoman said.

There was no immediate response from Britain’s Home Office (interior ministry).

Kotey and Elsheikh are being held by the U.S. military in an unidentified overseas location after they were captured in 2019 but Barr said it was becoming untenable to continue to hold them.

The pair were members of a four-strong Islamic State unit that was known as the Beatles because they were English speakers.

They are alleged to have detained or killed Western hostages, including U.S. journalists James Foley and Steven Sotloff and aid workers Kayla Mueller and Peter Kassig.

One member, Mohammed Emwazi, known as “Jihadi John”, was believed to have been killed in a 2015 U.S.-British missile strike.

The U.S. Justice Department wants Britain to turn over evidence it has on Kotey and Elsheikh to allow them to be tried in the United States.

Barr had said if Britain did not turn over the material by Oct. 15, the United States would turn over the men for prosecution in the Iraqi justice system.

(Reporting by Michael Holden; Editing by Angus MacSwan)

Trump says federal government should again seek death penalty for Boston bomber Tsarnaev

By Pete Schroeder

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – President Donald Trump said Sunday that the federal government should again seek the death penalty for Boston Marathon bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev.

In a tweet, Trump said the federal government must challenge a Friday appeals court decision overturning the death penalty for the 2013 attack.

“Rarely has anybody deserved the death penalty more than the Boston Bomber, Dzhokhar Tsarnaev,” tweeted Trump. “The Federal Government must again seek the Death Penalty in a do-over of that chapter of the original trial.”

A three-judge panel of the 1st U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals upheld much of Tsarnaev’s conviction Friday but ordered a new trial over what sentence Tsarnaev should receive for the death penalty-eligible crimes he was convicted of.

The federal government is reviewing the ruling. Prosecutors could ask the full appeals court to reconsider or appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court.

Tsarnaev and his older brother, Tamerlan, set off a pair of homemade pressure-cooker bombs near the finish line of the world-renowned race in 2013, tearing through the packed crowd, killing three people and wounding more than 260 others.

Tsarnaev admitted to his crimes after his conviction in 2015, and apologized to the victims.

(Reporting by Pete Schroeder; editing by Diane Craft)

U.S. judge delays first federal executions in 17 years

By Jonathan Allen

(Reuters) – A U.S. federal judge issued an injunction on Monday stopping what would have been the first federal execution in 17 years, scheduled for later in the day, to allow the continuation of legal challenges against the government’s lethal-injection protocol.

Judge Tanya Chutkan of the U.S. district court in Washington ordered the U.S. Department of Justice to delay four executions the department had scheduled for July and August until further order of the court.

Efforts to resume capital punishment at the federal level were underway within a few months of President Donald Trump’s inauguration in 2017, ending a de facto moratorium that began under his predecessor, Barack Obama, while long-running legal challenges to lethal injections played out in federal courts.

Judge Chutkan has been overseeing cases brought by inmates on death row who argue that the Justice Department’s new one-drug protocol breaks various administrative and drug-control laws and is unconstitutional.

The Justice Department had planned to execute Daniel Lewis Lee on Monday in Terre Haute, Indiana, using lethal injection of pentobarbital, a powerful barbiturate, for his role in the murders of three members of an Arkansas family, including an 8-year-old child, in 1996.

Some relatives of Lee’s victims opposed him receiving the death sentence while his accomplice in the murders, Chevie Kehoe, was sentenced to life in prison.

The department had scheduled two more executions for later in the week and a fourth in August, of Wesley Purkey, Dustin Honken and Keith Nelson, all convicted of murdering children.

The coronavirus pandemic has prevented some of the lawyers of inmates on death row from visiting their clients. At least one employee involved in the executions tested positive for COVID-19, the Justice Department said over the weekend.

On Sunday, an appeals court rejected an argument by some relatives of Lee’s victims, who sued for a delay saying they feared that attending his execution could expose them to the coronavirus.

FEDERAL EXECUTIONS RARE

While Texas, Missouri and other states execute multiple condemned inmates each year, federal executions are rare: only three have occurred since 1963, all from 2001 to 2003, including the 2001 execution of Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh.

There are currently 62 people on federal death row in Terre Haute.

Opposition to the death penalty has grown in the United States, although 54 percent of Americans said they supported it for people convicted of murder, according to a 2018 survey by the Pew Research Center.

In announcing the planned resumption of executions, Attorney General William Barr said last year: “We owe it to the victims and their families to carry forward the sentence imposed by our justice system.”

A European Union ban on selling drugs for use in executions or torture has led to pharmaceutical companies refusing to sell such drugs to U.S. prison systems.

The Justice Department spent much of 2018 and 2019 building a secret supply chain of private companies to make and test its drug of choice, pentobarbital, which replaces the three-drug protocol used in previous executions. Some of the companies involved said they were not aware they were testing execution drugs, a Reuters investigation found last week.

As with Texas and other states, the Justice Department has commissioned a private pharmacy to make the drug.

(Reporting by Jonathan Allen in New York; Editing by Peter Cooney and Dan Grebler)

 

Boston Marathon bomber seeks to avoid death penalty

Boston Marathon bomber seeks to avoid death penalty
By Tim McLaughlin

BOSTON (Reuters) – Lawyers for Boston Marathon bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev on Thursday will try to persuade a federal appeals court that the death sentence he faces is unfair because it was handed down by a tainted jury.

Tsarnaev’s defense team, in briefs filed with the 1st U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Boston, have argued that the publicity and manhunt leading to his capture in April 2013 biased the pool of potential jurors, including one actual juror who joined the unanimous vote for the death penalty.

The then-19-year-old Tsarnaev and his 26-year-old brother Tamerlan sparked five days of panic in Boston when they detonated a pair of homemade pressure cooker bombs at the marathon’s finish line, killing three people and injuring more than 200.

The pair eluded capture for days, punctuated by a gunbattle with police in Watertown, Massachusetts, in which Tamerlan was killed. Boston and most of its suburbs were locked down for a day as armed officers and troops conducted a house-to-house search for Dzhokhar.

Tsarnaev, now 26, was sentenced to death in 2015 after a jury found him guilty of killing three people in the April 15, 2013 bombing – Martin Richard, 8; Chinese exchange student Lingzi Lu, 26, and restaurant manager Krystle Campbell – and murdering Massachusetts Institute of Technology police officer Sean Collier, 26, three days later as the brothers attempted to flee.

Tsarnaev is not expected to be present during two hours of oral arguments at the same federal courthouse in Boston where he was convicted. His lawyers are asking the appeals court to reverse his death sentence.

“Tsarnaev was tried in a community still suffering from his crimes,” his defense team argued in court papers. “Two of the jurors who voted to sentence him to death lied during (jury selection), including the foreperson, who falsely denied calling Tsarnaev a ‘piece of garbage’ on Twitter, and, as the government concedes, failed to disclose that she and her family had sheltered in place in their Dorchester home during the manhunt.”

U.S. Justice Department lawyers say Tsarnaev received a fair trial and the jury was picked from a population mostly opposed to the death penalty. During his trial, a poll by the Boston Globe showed that about two-thirds of Massachusetts residents favored a life sentence for Tsarnaev.

During the trial, the family of the youngest victim, Richard, also asked prosecutors to consider taking the death penalty off the table.

(Reporting By Tim McLaughlin; Editing by Scott Malone and Grant McCool)

U.S. Supreme Court wrestles over ‘D.C. Sniper’ life sentence appeal

U.S. Supreme Court wrestles over ‘D.C. Sniper’ life sentence appeal
By Lawrence Hurley

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. Supreme Court justices on Wednesday questioned whether a lower court sufficiently considered that a man convicted in the deadly 2002 “D.C. Sniper” shooting spree in the Washington area was a minor at the time of the crimes when he was sentenced to life in prison.

The nine justices heard arguments in an appeal by the state of Virginia objecting to the lower court’s decision ordering that Lee Boyd Malvo’s sentence of life in prison without parole be thrown out.

Malvo, now 34, was 17 during the shootings in which 10 people were killed. He participated with an older accomplice, John Allen Muhammad, who was given the death penalty.

If Malvo prevails, he and other prison inmates in similar cases involving certain crimes committed by minors could receive new sentencing hearings to allow judges to consider whether their youth at the time of the offense merits leniency.

Malvo’s best chance of victory appears to be an alliance of the court’s four liberal justices and at least one conservative justice. The most likely contender based on questions he asked during the argument would be Justice Brett Kavanaugh.

The shootings occurred over three weeks in Washington, Maryland and Virginia, causing panic in the U.S. capital region. Muhammad also was convicted and was executed in 2009 at age 48 in a Virginia state prison.

Virginia appealed after the Richmond-based 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in 2018 that Malvo should be resentenced. The 4th Circuit cited Supreme Court decisions issued since the shooting spree finding that mandatory life sentences without parole for juveniles were unconstitutional, and that this rule applied retroactively.

Malvo received four life sentences in Virginia, where he was convicted of two murders and later entered a separate guilty plea to avoid the death penalty. He also received a sentence of life in prison without parole in Maryland.

Virginia’s appeal concerns the scope of a 2012 decision in which the Supreme Court ruled 5-4 that mandatory life sentences without parole in homicide cases involving juvenile killers violated the U.S. Constitution’s ban on cruel and unusual punishment. In 2016, the court decided that the 2012 ruling applied retroactively, enabling people imprisoned years ago to argue for their release.

Liberal Justice Elena Kagan appeared convinced that the 2012 ruling, which she authored, dictates the outcome.

“It can be summarized in two words, which is that youth matters,” Kagan said.

Fellow liberal Justice Stephen Breyer said the “odds are greater than 50-50” that the judge did not consider Malvo’s youth during sentencing.

Kavanaugh questioned whether the Virginia sentencing process gave judges leeway not to impose sentences of life without parole, a finding that would favor Malvo. Kavanaugh described that question as the “tough part of the case.”

President Donald Trump’s administration backed Virginia in the case. Among those backing Malvo’s claim in the case are Paul LaRuffa, who was shot and injured outside the restaurant he ran in Clinton, Maryland during the 2002 spree, and two relatives of people killed in shootings.

Malvo’s Maryland sentence would not be directly affected by the outcome in the Virginia dispute.

A ruling is due by the end of June.

(Reporting by Lawrence Hurley; Editing by Will Dunham)

U.S. to seek death penalty for accused Pittsburgh synagogue shooter

FILE PHOTO: Flowers and other items have been left as memorials outside the Tree of Life synagogue following last Saturday's shooting in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, U.S., November 3, 2018. REUTERS/Alan Freed

By Alex Dobuzinskis

(Reuters) – U.S. prosecutors will seek the death penalty for a Pennsylvania man accused of bursting into a Pittsburgh synagogue last year with a semi-automatic rifle and shooting 11 people to death, according to court papers filed on Monday.

Robert Bowers, 46, shouted “all Jews must die” as he fired on congregants gathered for Sabbath services at the Tree of Life synagogue on Oct. 27, authorities said.

Bowers, who is from a Pittsburgh suburb, has pleaded not guilty in U.S. District Court in Pittsburgh to a 63-count indictment and is awaiting trial though a trial date has not been set. The charges include using a firearm to commit murder and obstruction of free exercise of religious belief resulting in death, the court filing said.

“Robert Bowers expressed hatred and contempt toward members of the Jewish faith and his animus toward members of the Jewish faith played a role in the killings,” prosecutors said.

The massacre at the Tree of Life synagogue was the deadliest attack ever on Jewish Americans in the United States.

The synagogue is a fixture in Pittsburgh’s historically Jewish neighborhood of Squirrel Hill, which is home to one of the largest and oldest Jewish populations in the United States.

Bowers targeted that location “to maximize the devastation, amplify the harm of his crimes and instill fear within the local, national and international Jewish communities,” prosecutors said in court papers.

An attorney for Bowers, death penalty specialist Judy Clarke, did not return calls or an email seeking comment.

FILE PHOTO: The facade of the Tree of Life synagogue, where a mass shooting occurred last Saturday, in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, U.S., November 3, 2018. REUTERS/Alan Freed/File Photo

FILE PHOTO: The facade of the Tree of Life synagogue, where a mass shooting occurred last Saturday, in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, U.S., November 3, 2018. REUTERS/Alan Freed/File Photo

MULTIPLE CONGREGATIONS

The Tree of Life synagogue hosted multiple Jewish congregations.

Dor Hadash, one of the congregations that was attacked and whose name means New Generation in English, expressed disappointment in the decision to seek the death penalty.

Instead, attorneys for Bowers and federal prosecutors should have reached a plea agreement that would see him receive a life prison sentence, Dor Hadash said in a statement.

“It would have prevented the attacker from getting the attention and publicity that will inevitably come with a trial, and eliminated any possibility of further trauma that could result from a trial and protracted appeals,” it said.

Separately, a spokesman for Tree of Life said in an email the congregation “does not have a statement on this matter; we have confidence that justice will be served.”

Among those killed were a 97-year-old woman and a married couple in their 80s. Two civilians and five police officers were wounded before the gunman, who was armed with an assault-style rifle and three handguns, was shot by police at the synagogue and surrendered. He has been held in jail since then.

The mass shooting followed a rise in the number of hate crimes and the number of hate groups in the United States, according to separate reports from the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Southern Poverty Law Center.

(Reporting by Alex Dobuzinskis in Los Angeles; Editing by Cynthia Osterman)

Prosecutors charge Texas shooting suspect with murder, seek death penalty

People pray during a vigil a day after a mass shooting at a Walmart store in El Paso, Texas, U.S. August 4, 2019. REUTERS/Callaghan O'Hare

By Julio-Cesar Chavez

EL PASO, Texas (Reuters) – A single capital murder charge was filed on Sunday against the man accused of killing 20 people and wounding more than two dozen others at a Walmart store in El Paso, mass shooting authorities are viewing as a case of domestic terrorism.

Texas Governor Greg Abbott said Saturday’s rampage in the heavily Hispanic city appeared to be a hate crime. Police cited an anti-immigrant screed posted online shortly before the shooting, which they attributed to the suspect, Patrick Crusius, as evidence that the bloodshed was racially motivated.

It was the second of three separate public shooting sprees carried out in the United States in the span of a week, an unusually dense cluster of massacres that prompted fresh alarm in a country accustomed to reports of young men shooting down strangers.

The County of El Paso’s state court website lists a single charge of capital murder against Crusius, a 21-year-old white man from Allen, Texas.

His grandparents, with whom Crusius had recently been living, said they were devastated by the attack.

“He lived with us in our house in Allen, Texas, while he attended Collin College,” the statement said, read aloud by a family friend to reporters outside the home on Sunday. “He moved out of our house six weeks ago, and has spent a few nights here while we were out of town.”

The single charge is likely a legal place holder to keep Crusius in custody until further charges can be filed against him for each of the dead and the wounded.

It was unclear if Crusius has a lawyer or when a bond hearing or other court appearances will occur.

A state prosecutor said prosecutors will seek the death penalty against Crusius if he is found guilty.

The Federal Bureau of Investigation said in a statement on Sunday the attack “underscores the continued threat posed by domestic violent extremists and perpetrators of hate crimes.”

The agency said it remains concerned that more U.S.-based extremists could become inspired by these and previous high-profile attacks to engage in similar acts of violence.

The U.S. attorney for the western district of Texas, John Bash, said federal authorities were treating the El Paso massacre as a case of domestic terrorism.

“And we’re going to do what we do to terrorists in this country, which is to deliver swift and certain justice,” he told a news conference on Sunday. He said the attack appeared “to be designed to intimidate a civilian population, to say the least.”

FBI Director Christopher Wray told a congressional panel on July 23 that the bureau has recorded about 100 arrests of domestic terrorism suspects in the preceding nine months and that most investigations of that kind involve some form of white supremacy.

BACK-TO-BACK SHOOTINGS

The Texas rampage was followed just 13 hours later by another mass shooting, and came a week after a man shot dead three people at a California garlic festival before he was killed by police.

In Dayton, Ohio a gunman in body armor and a mask killed nine people in less than a minute and wounded 27 others in the city’s downtown historic district before he was shot dead by police.

Democratic candidates for next year’s presidential election called on Sunday for stricter gun laws and accused President Donald Trump of stoking racial tensions.

Trump has frequently derided many asylum seekers and other immigrants coming across the U.S. southern border as liars and criminals. At a political rally he held in May, after asking the crowd what could be done about immigrants coming in illegally, Trump smiled and joked after someone in the crowd yelled back: “Shoot them!”

Responding to the shootings, Trump called on lawmakers to pass new background checks laws for buying guns, and suggested any such legislation might also include greater restrictions on immigration.

“We must have something good, if not GREAT, come out of these two tragic events!” he wrote on Twitter on Monday morning ahead of planned remarks on the subject. On Sunday, he attributed the shootings to what he called the “mental illness” of the killers.

SIGNS OF HATE

El Paso Police Chief Greg Allen said the suspect was cooperating with investigators.

“He basically didn’t hold anything back,” Allen said at Sunday’s news conference but declined to elaborate.

Police said the suspect opened fire with a rifle on shoppers, many of them bargain-hunting for back-to-school supplies, then surrendered to officers who confronted him outside the store.

A police spokesman said on Sunday that the names of the victims would be released only when relatives had been informed, and he said he had no estimate for how long that would take.

Crusius comes from Allen, Texas, a Dallas suburb some 650 miles (1,046 km) east of El Paso, which lies along the Rio Grande across the U.S.-Mexico border from Ciudad Juarez.

A four-page statement posted on 8chan, an online message board often used by extremists, and believed to have been written by the suspect, called the Walmart attack “a response to the Hispanic invasion of Texas.”

It also expressed for support for the gunman who killed 51 people at two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand, in March.

El Paso and Ciudad Juarez, together with the neighboring city of Las Cruces, New Mexico, form a metropolitan border area of some 2.5 million residents constituting the largest bilingual, bi-national population in North America.

The rampage in El Paso on Saturday was the eighth most deadly mass shooting in recent years in the United States.

(Reporting by Julio-Cesar Chavez in El Paso; Additional reporting by Alex Dobuzinskis and Steve Gorman in Los Angeles, Jonathan Allen in New York, Keith Coffman in Denver, Tim Reid in Las Vegas, Mark Hosenball in London, Daina Beth Solomon in Mexico City, Daniel Trotta in New York and Rich McKay in Atlanta; Editing by Frances Kerry and Nick Zieminski)

U.S. Justice Department resumes use of the death penalty, schedules five executions

FILE PHOTO: U.S. Attorney General William Barr at the "2019 Prison Reform Summit" in the East Room of the White House in Washington, U.S., April 1, 2019. REUTERS/Yuri Gripas

By Sarah N. Lynch

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The U.S. Justice Department announced on Thursday it was reinstating a two-decades long-dormant policy to resume the federal government’s use of capital punishment and immediately scheduled the executions for five death row federal inmates.

“Congress has expressly authorized the death penalty through legislation adopted by the people’s representatives in both houses of Congress and signed by the President,” Attorney General William Barr said in a statement.”

“The Justice Department upholds the rule of law – and we owe it to the victims and their families to carry forward the sentence imposed by our justice system.”

U.S. President Donald Trump has called for increasing use of the death penalty for drug traffickers and mass shooters.

The Justice Department said it has scheduled executions for five federal inmates who have been convicted of horrific murders and sex crimes.

Those inmates include Daniel Lewis Lee, a white supremacist who was convicted in Arkansas for murdering a family of three, including an eight-year-old girl.

Another one of the five is Lezmond Mitchell, who was found guilty by a jury in Arizona of stabbing a 63-year-old grandmother and forcing her young granddaughter to sit next to her lifeless body on a car journey before slitting the girl’s throat.

“Each of these inmates has exhausted their appellate and post-conviction remedies,” the department said, adding that all five executions will take place at the U.S. Penitentiary Terre Haute in Indiana.

(Reporting by Sarah N. Lynch; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama and Sonya Hepinstall)

U.S. prosecutors weigh death penalty for accused Pittsburgh synagogue shooter

Police vehicles are deployed near the vicinity of the home of Pittsburgh synagogue shooting suspect Robert Bowers' home in Baldwin borough, suburb of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, U.S., October 27, 2018. REUTERS/John Altdorfer


(Reuters) – The case of Robert Bowers, the man accused of massacring 11 people at Pittsburgh’s Tree of Life synagogue last year was set to return to a federal courtroom on Thursday, as prosecutors weigh whether to pursue the death penalty against him.

Bowers, 46, is accused of bursting into the synagogue on Oct. 27 with a semi-automatic rifle and three handguns and shouting “all Jews must die” as he fired on congregants gathered for a Sabbath service.

Bowers has pleaded not guilty in U.S. District Court in Pittsburgh to a 63-count indictment. Some of the charges, including murder as a hate crime, can carry the death penalty.

At Thursday’s hearing, prosecutors may discuss whether they will seek the death penalty. The session is a routine hearing to review the status of the case.

The United States is seeing a rise in the number of hate crimes and the number of hate groups, according to separate reports from the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Southern Poverty Law Center.

One of Bowers’ attorneys, death penalty specialist Judith Clarke, said at his last hearing that the defense hoped to settle without trial. A negotiated plea deal could allow Bowers to avoid facing the risk of execution.

It was not clear whether Bowers would be present at the hearing.

Prosecutors say Bowers frequently posted anti-Semitic comments on right-wing social-media websites, including a post on the morning of the shooting in which he decried the work of a U.S. Jewish charity, the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society.

Among those killed in the attack were a 97-year-old woman, two brothers in their 50s and a married couple in their 80s. Two civilians and five police officers were wounded before the gunman was shot by police and surrendered.

Ahead of Thursday’s hearing, Bowers filed a motion to the court through his lawyers, which Judge Donetta Ambrose allowed to be sealed from public view per Bowers’ request.

(Reporting by Jonathan Allen in New York; Editing by Scott Malone and Cynthia Osterman)