Poway synagogue killer sentenced to two life sentences without parole

John Earnest was convicted by both state and federal courts, with his sentences to run consecutively as a symbol that hate “will not be tolerated,” said the federal judge.

By Batya Jerenberg, World Israel News

The white supremacist who killed one and injured three in a 2019 shooting in a Poway, CA synagogue received Tuesday from a federal court his second life sentence, plus another 30 years, for his crimes.

John Earnest had pled guilty in state court in September to murder, attempted murder, hate crimes and arson charges in a plea bargain that saved him from the electric chair. He had entered the Orthodox Chabad synagogue on the last day of Passover and shot down 60-year-old Lori Gilbert Kaye, who died shortly thereafter of her injuries. He also hit the rabbi with a bullet to the hand, causing to him to lose a finger, and injured an Israeli man and his eight-year-old niece.

The arson charges stemmed from his weeks-earlier attempt to set a Moslem house of prayer on fire in nearby Escondido. Seven people had been sleeping in the Dar-ul-Arqam Mosque at the time, but they put out the flames and were uninjured.

The judge then sentenced him to life in prison without the possibility of parole.

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The 22-year-old also agreed at the time to a deal with prosecutors in the parallel federal case, pleading guilty to a 113-count indictment that included hate crimes, civil rights and weapons violations.

When U.S. District Judge Anthony J. Battaglia gave Earnest his second life sentence, he ordered that it be run consecutively rather than concurrently, even though he acknowledged that this would be a symbolic gesture. He reasoned, however, that “Hate is something that has to be addressed and must be held up as an example to all that it will not be tolerated.”

In the defense sentencing memorandum, Earnest’s lawyers wrote that their client was remorseful and has “condemned his own actions in this case.” They asked that he be placed in a state prison which could be easily reached by his family, who “can ultimately help him continue the path of reconciliation and redemption.”

But the Los Angeles Times reported that prison officials had recently found a document in his cell in which he had again promoted antisemitic violence. Federal prosecutors are calling for Earnest to be locked up instead in a super-maximum-security federal prison in Colorado where the most heinous criminals are placed, including drug kingpins.

Battaglia agreed with the prosecutors regarding a federal rather than state prison, but it is unclear as yet where Earnest will serve his sentence as the U.S. Bureau of Prisons has the final say.

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Earnest’s lawyers say he was radicalized by posts and videos he saw online. He uploaded rabidly antisemitic posts himself, writing among other things, “I can only kill so many Jews” shortly before he drove to the synagogue.