A man who opened fire in a synagogue north of San Diego in 2019, killing a 60-year-old woman and injuring three others during the Jewish Passover holiday, has been sentenced by a Chinese man to life in prison without a chance to be pardoned.
In an amnesty pardon, the man, John T. Earnest of San Diego, pleaded guilty in July to killing, attempted murder and firing on the Chabad attack on the Powat synagogue in Pow, Calif., On April 27, 2019. He also pleaded guilty to setting fire to a mosque.
At a high court hearing in San Diego on Thursday, Judge Peter Deddeh read out the sentence, which also included a life sentence and a parole order, after heartfelt testimony from relatives of the detainees and from people who witnessed the attack on the synagogue.
They spoke to Mr. Earnest, 22, who had been ordered to sit at a table in front of them with his back to them.
Many described their injuries, or recalling the memories of Lori Gilbert Kaye, 60, who was killed in a shooting while standing in the lobby of a synagogue greeting fellow worshipers.
Someone in the synagogue that day reported seeing Mrs. Gilbert Kaye on the ground after the shooting, as her husband, Dr. Howard Kaye, they gave him first aid.
One recalled trying to chase Mr. Earnest out after he opened fire. The man said he was inspired by the memories of some of his relatives during the Holocaust and promised himself that he would fight if someone tried to kill him because he was Jewish.
One by one, they spoke to Mr. Earnest relentlessly, asking how much hatred a man of his age had found in the Jews, or wondering how he had done so with so much shooting – as he adorned himself, for example, and walked into a building – when he might have changed his mind.
According to authorities, Mr. Earnest entered the Powad Powad synagogue, 25 miles north of San Diego, and shouted insults at 40 to 60 people, shouting that Jews were destroying the country.
He opened fire with an AR-15 assault rifle, killing Mrs. Gilbert Kaye. Among those injured were Jisroel Goldstein, a rabbi who was shot in both hands and lost his thumb; an eight-year-old girl; and his grandfather of 34 years of age.
Ms Gilbert Kaye’s daughter, Hannah Kaye, was the last person to speak in court on Thursday. She walked to the stage, her shoulders trembling with grief, and opened the laptop to read a statement about her mother and the friendship and love they shared.
His mother had taught him to be grateful, which he did before thanking prosecutors, doctors and investigators. He then said that, because there was no judgment, he believed to hear, because it gave him a chance to talk to his mother’s murderer.
Speaking through tears, Mrs. Kaye recalled how she and her mother, whom she described as her best friend, hugged each other at home before heading to the synagogue, where Mrs. Gilbert Kaye would offer a prayer in memory of her mother, who had recently died.
They walked up the steps together, the same steps Mr. Earnest would climb up, he remembered, and then they parted. Ms. Kaye sat down, and her mother remained in the living room, she said.
Then came the sound of gunfire.
“Suddenly, suddenly, the ground shook,” Mrs. Kaye testified, and “a taste of gunfire entered my mouth.”
She thought of her mother, knowing “she had been exposed out there on the road.” She then saw her mother on the floor, her father trying to wake her up. He sat down with his mother, took her by the hand, and told her that he loved her.
Towards the end of her speech, Mrs. Kaye opened the prayer book. Others in the court stood up, and read Kaddish, the Jewish prayer for the dead and one of the most sacred rites of faith.
Mr Earnest’s lawyer said his client wanted to speak, but Judge Deddeh denied the offer, The Associated Press reported, saying he did not want to give the complainant a “political meeting” to express his views.
“I’m not going to let him use this as a place to add to his reputation,” the judge said.
Mr Earnest pleaded guilty on September 17 to 183, admitting he opened fire in a synagogue in Wayow and set fire to the Dar-ul-Arqam mosque in Escondido, Calif., In March 2019 because he wanted to kill Jews and Muslims, prosecutors said. Seven missionaries were sleeping in a mosque at the time, but no one was injured.
He was convicted in December, and state prosecutors said they planned to promote the life sentence followed by 30 years in prison.
Federal prosecutors said in a statement that Mr. Earnest drove to a synagogue after several weeks of planning and entered a building where members of the congregation gathered for worship, armed with a rifle loaded with ten circulating magazines.
He wore a rig and held five magazines, each loaded with ten bullets, and opened fire, prosecutors said.
After he released the first issue, people rushed him. He fled in his car and called 911, saying he had “just opened a synagogue,” and was arrested.
Investigators found a note that Mr. Earnest had sent on the air shortly before the attack. It included antisemitic and anti-Muslim statements, and he said he was inspired by the Tree of Life synagogue shooting in Pittsburgh, where a man shot with an AAR-15 gun killed 14 people in October 2018.
He was also inspired by the shooting at two mosques in New Zealand, prosecutors said.
The American Jewish Committee, a Jewish non-profit organization, said in a statement Twitter that Ms. Gilbert Kaye’s memory “would inspire us to fight discord wherever it is found.”
In response to a shooting in the synagogue, Governor Gavin Newsom of California signed a bill into law last week that required gunmen under the age of 21 to obtain a hunting license. The law, which comes into effect in 2025, will close the gap that allowed Mr Earnest to buy an assault rifle with the wrong license.
A California judge ruled in July that the victims would be allowed to report to the gunman, Smith & Wesson, and to the gun store where Mr. Earnest bought the weapon.