A San Diego man was sentenced to a second life term in federal prison on Dec. 28 for a deadly synagogue shooting in 2019, adding to the life term he received in September in state court.
John T. Earnest, 22, was sentenced by U.S District Court Judge Anthony Battaglia who said the state and federal life sentences would run one after another instead of concurrently as a symbolic gesture to “send a strong message”. A request from the defense attorney to have Earnest stay in a state prison was denied.
“All people in this country should be able to freely exercise their religion without fear of being attacked,” said U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland. “This defendant’s horrific crime was an assault on fundamental principles of our nation."
The 22 year old man plead guilty in September to a 113-count federal indictment that charged him with civil rights, hate crimes and weapons charges stemming from the April 27, 2019, attack on the synagogue at Chabad of Poway that wounded one and killed two adults and a child. Defense attorneys and prosecutors recommended a life sentence, plus 30 years.
The victims of the shooting were identified as 8 year-old Noya Dahan, her uncle 34-year-old Almog Peretz and 60 year-old Lori Gilbert-Kaye. Founding Rabbi Yisroel Goldstein was wounded. The attacks came during a Passover service.
According to a federal affidavit, Earnest legally bought a semi-automatic rifle in San Diego a day before the attack.
Earnest was also found guilty for arson at the Dar-ul-Arqam mosque in Escondido which occurred about a month prior to the shooting.
Earnest declined to speak in federal court at the start of the two-hour long hearing. Though a judge denied Earnest’s request to speak in state court. The judge said he didn't want to give a platform for his hate-filled speech.
During federal court, the 22 year-old sat in the far end of the jury box looking at the wall behind the judge expressionless as relatives of the victims and congregates of the synagogue spoke.
Earnest was also charged with state charges of murder, attempted murder and hate crimes in San Diego Superior Court. In July he pleaded guilty to those charges in a deal with prosecutors that allowed him to avoid the death penalty and instead get a sentence of life in prison without parole.
The mass shootings at the Tree of Life Congregation in Pittsburgh and two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand, inspired Ernest to attack the synagogue. It was reported that he frequented 8chan, a dark corner of the internet, to post extremist, racist and violent views.
Federal prosecutors pushed to imprison Earnest at a super-maximum security federal prison in Florence, Colo. which houses notorious criminals. According to Battaglia, the decision will be up to the U.S. Bureau of Prisons.