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Man pleads guilty to murder in deadly shooting at California synagogue

A San Diego county sheriff's deputy stood in front of the Chabad of Poway synagogue, in Poway, Calif.
A San Diego county sheriff's deputy stood in front of the Chabad of Poway synagogue, in Poway, Calif.Denis Poroy/Associated Press

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, 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, California, a month before the attack on the synagogue, admitting that both acts were hate crimes, the district attorney’s office said.

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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, 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.

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This article originally appeared in The New York Times.