CMN Executive Director responds to death sentence for Pittsburgh synagogue shooter

WASHINGTON, DC – The Department of Justice handed down a death sentence Wednesday for the man responsible for killing 11 worshipers at a Pittsburgh synagogue in October 2018. The case marks the first time that federal prosecutors have sought and won a death sentence during the administration of President Biden, who happens to be the first U.S. president in history to come out publicly against the death penalty.

Krisanne Vaillancourt Murphy, executive director of Catholic Mobilizing Network, which advocates against the death penalty, offered the following statement:

“Today is an emotional day for those who lost loved ones in this violent display of antisemitism. We hold the survivors, the city of Pittsburgh, and all our Jewish brothers and sisters in our prayers.

At the same time, we recognize that the federal death penalty is a fatally flawed system that offers many empty promises. For one, death sentences don’t deter or prevent violent hate crimes; in fact, many believe they create a notoriety that others want to emulate. Death sentences also don’t bring “closure” to survivors as promised; they do, however, almost guarantee years of appeals and retraumatizing legal processes.

The Biden administration is the first in history to declare an official moratorium on federal executions, citing concerns of racial bias, arbitrariness, and wrongful convictions. It sends a mixed message, then, that the Department of Justice actively pursued this death sentence on Biden’s watch. 

Robert Bowers is guilty of a heinous hate crime, and needs to be held accountable as such. But as Catholics committed to honoring the sanctity of all life, we do not believe that sentencing him to death was the way.

If we really want to reduce violence, racism, and antisemitism in our country, we can’t afford to divert our efforts toward perpetuating the cycle of violence through executions. The death penalty places emphasis solely on one individual, instead of addressing the root cause of the violence. In the wake of today’s sentencing, we can’t ignore these fundamental questions: what is the source of such hate? And how can we work towards healing it to prevent future violence?”


Catholic Mobilizing Network is a national organization that mobilizes Catholics and all people of goodwill to value life over death, to end the use of the death penalty, to transform the U.S. criminal justice system from punitive to restorative, and to build capacity in U.S. society to engage in restorative practices.