Emotional testimony Wednesday at the federal trial of Robert Bowers, accused of killing 11 worshippers inside the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh, included survivor accounts of hiding and playing dead to avoid being shot.
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May 31 (UPI) -- Emotional testimony during day two of the federal trial of Robert Bowers, accused of killing 11 worshippers inside a Pittsburgh synagogue in the worst antisemitic attack in the United States, included survivor accounts of hiding and playing dead to avoid being shot.
Six witnesses testified Wednesday, one day after the trial's opening statements that featured 911 calls from the Oct. 27, 2018, mass shooting at the Tree of Life Synagogue.
Bowers, 50, has pleaded not guilty to 63 charges, including federal hate crimes and firearm offenses. According to court documents, he was armed with three handguns and an AR-15 rifle. Bowers was taken into custody after being shot multiple times by police.
Prosecutors are seeking the death penalty, while Bowers' attorneys say the former truck driver suffers from schizophrenia and should be sentenced to life in prison.
Three different congregations at the Tree of Life Synagogue were holding services in different parts of the building more than four years ago when the shooting began. According to the indictment, Bowers shot out a large window near the entrance of the synagogue before opening fire on congregants.
"I reviewed my life. I thought about the wonder of it all, the beauty of life, the happiness I had experienced through my life," Daniel Leger, 75, testified Wednesday about pretending to be dead after he was shot in the stomach.
Leger was eventually carried to an ambulance after he reached out his hand to a paramedic who said, "This one's alive."
Another survivor, Carol Black, 71, said she and other congregants heard loud sounds and eventually realized it was gunfire.
She, Melvin Wax and Barry Werber hid in a closet and stayed quiet as the gunshots came closer.
Black testified that she and Werber had to remain as quiet and calm as possible even after the gunman shot Wax twice and he fell right next to them. The 87-year-old accountant was among those killed.
"If I remained calm, I would not give my position away," she testified.
"I heard gunshots," Werber testified. "Mel Wax fell back into the room, and a short time later the door opened slightly. I saw a figure of a person step over the body and step back. He couldn't see us. It was too dark."
Tree of Life Rabbi Jeffrey Myers said he heard what he though was a coat rack falling on a lower floor before he heard gunshots and saw people running. He told his congregants to lay flat on the pews or get on the ground.
Rabbi Myers testified that he called 911 as he hid in a choir loft bathroom for 40 minutes.
"I expected to die," he testified in tears. "I was trying to decide, 'Do I hang up the phone and call my wife or make a video?' I thought if this was the end, I wasn't going to leave her like that, for her to hear that. So I decided to stay on the phone with 911."
"I thought about the history of my people, how we've been persecuted and hunted and slaughtered for centuries, and how all of them must have felt at the moments before their death," the rabbi said.
"I was prepared to meet my fate," Myers testified, saying SWAT officers found him and walked him out of the synagogue to safety.
He said he keeps a Jewish prayer book -- damaged by a bullet hole -- as a reminder of the day.
"It's a witness to the horror of the day," Myers testified. "One day, when I'm not there, this book tells a story that needs to be told."