John Gibbins / The San Diego Union-Tribune via AP, Pool, File
SAN DIEGO – A 22-year-old former nursing student pleaded guilty on Tuesday to murder and other charges in connection with a deadly shooting at a Southern California synagogue on the last day of Passover.
John T. Earnest avoided the death penalty by arguing in San Diego Superior Court. The San Diego County District Attorney’s Office said he had agreed to serve the rest of his life in state prison without the possibility of parole. Sentencing is scheduled for September 30.
Earnest opened fire with a semi-automatic rifle on the last day of Passover services in April 2019 at Chabad of Poway. The attack killed Lori Gilbert-Kaye, 60, and injured three others, including an 8-year-old girl and the rabbi, who lost a finger.
Earnest then called 911 to say he blew up a synagogue because Jews were trying to “destroy all white people,” authorities said.
He faces similar charges in federal court, where U.S. prosecutors face an August 30 deadline on whether to continue the death penalty. Kelly Thornton, spokesperson for the U.S. Attorney’s Office in San Diego, said the federal case is moving forward, with a hearing scheduled for September 8.
Denis Poroy / AP
U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland suspended federal executions this month while the Department of Justice conducts a review of its policies and procedures.
Earnest submitted a conditional plea agreement for federal prosecutors’ consideration on June 4, the San Diego County District Attorney’s Office said.
The district attorney said he consulted with the Kaye family and other victims before agreeing to the deal, aware that a possible plea arrangement under the federal prosecutor’s office would prevent the state’s case from moving forward.
“Although we reserve the right to judge this as a death penalty case, life imprisonment without the possibility of parole for the accused is an appropriate solution to this violent hate crime, and we hope that it will bring a measure of justice and closure to the victims, their families, friends and the community at large, ”the office said. “This plea ensures that the accused is held accountable for his crimes under the law of the state of California.”
California Governor Gavin Newsom declared a moratorium on the death penalty in 2019.
Representatives for Chabad of Poway did not immediately respond to a request for comment.