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California synagogue shooter pleads guilty to federal charges

By Jake Thomas
1/5
California synagogue shooter pleads guilty to federal charges
Members of the Kaye family, daughter Hannah (C) and her father, Howard (2nd-L), along with other mourners attend the funeral service for Lori Gilbert Kaye at El Camino cemetery in San Diego, Calif., on April 29, 2019. Kaye was killed at the Chabad of Poway Synagogue. File Photo by Ariana Drehsler/UPI | License Photo

Sept. 18 (UPI) -- A California man has pleaded guilty in federal court for his deadly attack on a synagogue and attempt to set a mosque on fire.

John T. Earnest, 22, pleaded guilty Friday to a 113-count indictment of racial and religiously motivated crimes, according to the U.S. Department of Justice.

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The charges include the murder of one person and the attempted murders of 53 others in his attack on the Chabad of Poway synagogue on April 27, 2019.

Earnest entered the synagogue that morning armed with a Smith and Wesson M&P 15 military-style rifle loaded with a 10-round magazine that he used to open fire on congregates inside.

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Earnest, of Rancho Peñasquitos, killed Lori Gilbert-Kaye, 60, according to The San Diego Union-Tribune. Additionally, Rabbi Yisroel Goldstein had his right index finger shot off. Noya Dahan, then 8, and her uncle, Almog Peretz, were wounded, the paper reports.

Several congregants rushed Earnest after he emptied his initial magazine. Earnest fled in his car and called 911 confessing to the crime. He was arrested by local law enforcement who found the rifle and additional ammunition in his car.

"There is no place in American society for this type of hate-fueled violence," Deputy Attorney General Lisa Monaco said in a statement. "The Department of Justice will enforce hate crimes and anti-discrimination laws to the fullest extent of the law and will hold perpetrators accountable for these crimes, which inflict harm not only on individual victims, but on entire communities."

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Earnest later admitted to attempting to set fire to the Dar-ul-Arqam mosque in Escondido, Calif., because of his hatred of Muslims and the building's religious appearance. Seven missionaries were asleep in the mosque, but no one was injured, according to the department.

Department of Justice prosecutors will not seek the death penalty for Earnest, the Union-Tribune reports. Earnest pleaded guilty to state murder and attempted murder charges on July 20 as part of a plea bargain with San Diego County District Attorney Summer Stephan who agreed not to seek the death penalty.

Under the deal, the state prosecutor agreed not to seek the death penalty and Earnest will be sentenced to life without parole as well as 121 years to life an an additional 16-year term, the paper reports. While Earnest signed an additional agreement to plead guilty in federal court, the terms have not been made public.

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The department says as part of its agreement it will recommend a sentence of life in prison followed by 30 years when his sentencing takes place on Dec. 28.

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