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Jury selection interviews in synagogue shooting trial come to an abrupt end, trial likely to start after Memorial Day

Jury selection is underway at the Federal Courthouse in Pittsburgh in the capital murder trial of Robert Bowers accused in the 2018 Pittsburgh synagogue massacre.
Gene J. Puskar
Jury interviews end at the Federal Courthouse in Pittsburgh in the capital murder trial of Robert Bowers accused in the 2018 Pittsburgh synagogue massacre.

Judge Robert Colville on Wednesday morning denied two defense motions to strike potential jurors, and then the court agreed quickly to end jury interviews entirely. "My instinct is you all can spend your time more helpfully and productively not conducting these interviews," Colville said.

The court has 69 potential jurors as of this morning.

The prosecution and defense agreed that the court would reconvene next Thursday, May 25, to call in the potential jurors and issue their peremptory strikes in person.

Last night, Judge Robert Colville issued an order that allows the defense two extra days of preparation before Robert Bowers will be psychologically examined. With jury interviews done, the examination will likely start on Saturday, May 20, and last four and a half days through Wednesday, May 24.

Colville said that he anticipated the guilty phase of the trial to begin the week after Memorial Day weekend.

There are three potential jurors the defense is arguing it needs additional information about and that could theoretically be struck for a hardship. One was about a juror this morning and her connection to someone involved in the trial. The defense lawyers also submitted a last minute brief this morning to gather more information about two other potential jurors who work in the construction industry. One of the jurors mentioned that he didn't know if he would be paid for the duration of the trial, and the defense asked the court to reach out to the juror and find out if that was true or not.

The other juror submitted a letter along with his employer saying that his job would require him to travel during the trial. And the man and his business noted that his company had ties to Israel and some of its members attended synagogue in Squirrel Hill. The defense argued that the court should ask the man some additional questions to understand more about whether the man had any business relationships that might be connected to the synagogues that were attacked during the 2018 shooting.

Yesterday, Colville said that he wasn't inclined to require further follow-up with the man because it might lead to other companies submitting notices on behalf of their employees. But the defense submitted its brief on Wednesday to further argue that the court should follow up with this potential juror to learn more.

Colville also ruled last night that the defense lawyers can be present at the Butler County Prison during Bower's examination but the lawyers can't be in the room where the examination is taking place. Bowers can then talk with his lawyers during breaks in the examination. Colville warned that Bowers can't take excessive breaks or it would undermine the psychological examination and Bowers could jeopardize his ability to make an argument about his mental health.

Colville told the prosecution and defense to decide how the process for peremptory strikes should happen next week and — if they can’t agree on any issue — to put their disagreements into writing for him.