A former nursing student will spend the rest of his life in prison after admitting to a 2019 attack on a San Diego synagogue that left one person dead and others, including a child, injured.
John T. Earnest, 22, pleaded guilty to murder and other charges in connection with the deadly shooting at the Chabad of Poway in April 2019.
Earnest killed one person and injured three others in the attack. Lori Gilbert-Kaye, 60, died while apparently protecting Rabbi Yisroel Goldstein during the attack. The rabbi himself was shot in the hand and lost a finger. Others injured included an 8-year-old girl, Noya Dahan, who was struck by shrapnel in her face and leg, and Dahan’s then-34-year-old uncle Almog Peretz, who suffered shrapnel in her leg while reportedly saving several children.
The attack was carried out during services on the last day of Passover. Earnest, who was 19 years old at the time, had opened fire on worshippers just before 11:30 a.m., and then left the scene. Congregants engaged and pursued Earnest, and police arrested him without incident.
Earnest pleaded guilty Tuesday to the “willful, deliberate, premeditated murder” of Kaye and attempted murder of the other three.
“Earnest admitted that he committed those crimes because of his bias and hatred of Jews, and he admitted that he personally discharged a firearm causing death and great bodily injury,” the San Diego district attorney’s office said in a statement.
Earnest also pleaded guilty to the March 2019 arson at the Dar-ul-Arqam mosque, also known as the Islamic Center of Escondido, “for the purpose of terrorizing Muslim worshippers,” the statement said.
Under the plea, Earnest will serve the rest of his life in prison without the possibility of parole, plus 121 years-to-life and 16 years in state prison, the DA’s statement said.
After the shooting, Earnest’s family issued a statement calling his actions “evil and despicable,” and expressing confusion as to how Earnest came to the decision to attack the synagogue.
During a 911 call, Earnest told a dispatcher that he had attacked the synagogue to save white people from Jews.
“I’m defending our nation against the Jewish people, who are trying to destroy all white people,” Earnest reportedly said,
Although Earnest would have been eligible for the death penalty, the DA’s office said Earnest’s punishment under the plea deal was appropriate.
“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,” the statement said. “After consulting with the Kaye family and the many victims impacted by the shooting, the decision to accept a plea of life in prison was made in the interest of justice and with the knowledge that a parallel prosecution by the U.S. Attorney’s Office and possible plea in that case would prevent the state’s case from moving forward. This plea ensures the defendant is held accountable for his crimes under California state law.”
It’s unclear whether Earnest would have even been executed under the death penalty, as California Gov. Gavin Newsom issued a moratorium in March of 2019. The California Supreme Court has recently indicated it may consider overturning hundreds of death penalty sentences in the state.
Earnest is also facing federal hate crimes charges for the attacks on the synagogue and the mosque. A filing from July 7th indicates that he has reached a plea agreement with the government, which appears to be under the federal judge’s consideration.
Earnest’s sentencing is scheduled for Sept. 30th.
[Image via Nelvin C. Cepeda, Pool/Getty Images]
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