Over two years after Passover services at a Poway synagogue was shattered by a gunman who opened fire on dozens of congregants, killing one and injuring three others, the federal prosecution against shooter John T. Earnest is set to end with a guilty plea.
An entry on the court docket in San Diego federal court on Tuesday shows that a change-of-plea hearing for Earnest has been scheduled for Sept. 17th.
According to reports, Earnest had initially pleaded not guilty since being indicted on civil rights, hate crimes and firearm charges in the wake of the April 2019 shooting,
In June, however, he signed a conditional offer to plead guilty — though what charges he would plead are yet to be disclosed.
A spokeswoman for the U.S. Attorney in San Diego, which is handling the case, declined to comment on the upcoming hearing. So did Ellis M. Johnston II, one of Earnest’s federal defense lawyers.
“I’m not going to comment on the case, ” he stated.
The notice of the upcoming plea hearing came one day after federal prosecutors notified the court that Earnest would not face the death penalty in connection with the shooting spree.
Both events come just weeks after a case filed against him in San Diego Superior Court by District Attorney Summer Stephan also ended in the 21-year-old Earnest pleading guilty to murder, attempted murder and other charges.
As part of that plea deal he will be sentenced to a colossal term of imprisonment life without possibility of parole, plus a sentence of 121 years to life, and a third sentence of 16 years.
Taken together, the decisions and guilty pleas over the past eight weeks will end both cases against Earnest. When each was first filed, he faced the possibility of being sentenced to death in either court system. Now the prosecutions will end with no trials, and no death penalty.
Earnest is accused of barging into the Chabad of Poway synagogue during Passover services on April 27, 2019, armed with an AR-15-type rifle he had recently purchased. He opened fire, killing one person — 60-year-old Lori Kaye-Gilbert — and injuring three others.
Rabbi Yisroel Goldstein was shot in both hands and lost his right index finger. Almog Peretz, 34, was shot in one leg, and Peretz’s 8-year-old niece, Noya Dahan, was struck by bullet fragments in her face and leg. After a few moments, Earnest stopped firing, perhaps because the gun jammed. He fled the building after being rushed and chased out by other congregants, and sped away.
He was stopped minutes later after calling 911 himself, and arrested without incident by San Diego police. At the time Earnest was a nursing student at CSU San Marcos, living with his parents in the family’s Rancho Peñasquitos home.
Investigators later found a seven-page “manifesto” that was posted online just before the attack. It was laced with anti-Semitic passages blaming Jews for killing Jesus, as well as Islamophobic and white-supremacist passages.
Though the criminal cases are coming to a close, other legal action connected to the shootings goes on.
Survivors of the shooting have filed two lawsuits against the synagogue, contending that insufficient security measures were in place. Both say that federal funds obtained by Chabad of Poway to beef up security were never spent on enhanced safety measures.
Some survivors are also suing Smith & Wesson, manufacturer of the rifle Earnest used, for negligence and other claims. A San Diego Superior Court judge ruled in July that the case can continue, rejecting an argument from the company that such suits were barred by a federal law shielding gun manufacturers from claims.
Separately, Goldstein, who rose to national prominence after the shooting by calling for tolerance and understanding has pleaded guilty to federal fraud charges. Prosecutors say he orchestrated a years-long scheme involving taxes, government programs, real estate and public and private grant programs.
At the time of the shooting Goldstein had been under investigation for years, and he was actively cooperating with the government probe into his fraud schemes centered on other individuals, nine of whom have also pleaded guilty. Goldstein has yet to be sentenced, though as part of his plea agreement with federal prosecutors he will not be sentenced to prison.
federal prosecutors have accepted an offer to plead guilty.