Suspect in Attacks on Synagogue, Mosque Pleads Not Guilty - NBC Connecticut
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Suspect in Attacks on Synagogue, Mosque Pleads Not Guilty

Surveillance video captured the entire incident, according to the prosecutor



    Suspect Pleads Not Guilty in Poway Synagogue Shooting

    The man accused of killing one woman and injuring three other people appeared in court for the first time, pleading not guilty to five felony charges, including murder with a hate-crime special circumstance. NBC 7’s Melissa Adan has more. (Published Tuesday, April 30, 2019)

    The man accused of opening fire inside a Poway synagogue on the last day of Passover and setting a fire that damaged an Escondido mosque pleaded not guilty to multiple charges Tuesday.

    John T. Earnest, 19, of San Diego was charged with one count of murder with a hate-crime special circumstance and gun allegations, three counts of attempted murder with hate-crime and gun allegations and one count of arson of a house of worship.

    Earnest is accused of walking into Chabad of Poway Saturday armed with a semi-automatic rifle and five additional 10-round magazines on his tactical vest. A tactical helmet was found later in the defendant's car, the prosecutor said.

    Lori Gilbert-Kaye, 60, was shot twice as she turned to flee, officials said. She died from her injuries. Rabbi Yisroel Goldstein was in the immediate area and was shot in the hand. He sustained injuries to both hands including the loss of a finger.

    "The defendant turned his rifle toward one of the rooms full of congregation members and fired additional rounds," Deputy District Attorney Leonard Trinh said.

    Trinh said the suspect allegedly fired eight to 10 rounds before the rifle appeared to jam or malfunction and the suspect couldn't fix it.

    Surveillance video captured the entire incident, according to the prosecutor. 

    After the hearing, San Diego County District Attorney Summer Stephan described the video to members of the media. 

    Stephan said the footage showed the moment the gun appeared to jam.

    “There was something going on that was interrupting his action,” she said.

    After Earnest fled the scene, he called 911 to report the shooting at the synagogue.

    Judge Joseph Branningan denied bail and said, “Mr. Earnest is an obvious and extraordinary risk to public safety and the community.”

    The suspect did not have a prior record in any jurisdiction, Stephan said.

    “I am not going to even mention his name. There is only one villain in this case, but there are many heroes and that is what defines us as a community,” Stephan said.

    She did not release information about how the rifle was purchased, saying that is still under investigation. 

    If convicted, the defendant may face the death penalty or life without the possibility of parole, in addition to 103 years to life on other charges, she said.

    Stephan will determine whether to pursue the death penalty in the case at a later time.

    “There is a moratorium in the State of California, however, the law is still that California has the death penalty, so there is not a bar for seeking the death penalty, it just means that while the governor is the governor, there will not be executions,” the DA said.

    Read more about the suspect, along with a statement from his family.

    The other two victims in the shooting were 34-year-old Almog Peretz and 8-year-old Noya Dahan. The girl was released from the hospital Saturday night and Peretz was released Sunday. Both are recovering.

    Peretz, alongside several members of the Chabad of Poway synagogue, sat in the front row of the courtroom inside the Hall of Justice downtown as Earnest was arraigned.

    The arson charge is tied to the March 23 fire at Dar-ul-Arqam on W. Sixth Avenue where investigators discovered a message in graffiti in the mosque’s parking lot. EPD did not reveal what the graffiti said, only noting that it referenced the March 15 deadly terrorist attacks at two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand.

    The synagogue shooting and the mosque arson were less than 9 miles apart.

    Earnest was represented by attorney John O'Connell from the public defender's office.

    A readiness hearing has been scheduled for May 30, and a preliminary hearing was set for July 8.