Evidence in Deadly Poway Synagogue Attack Presented in Court - NBC 7 San Diego

Evidence in Deadly Poway Synagogue Attack Presented in Court

San Diego resident John T. Earnest, 20, has pleaded not guilty to murder and attempted murder, both with hate-crime and gun allegations, and arson of a house of worship. He also faces more than 110 federal charges.



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    Surveillance video from a Poway synagogue was shown in court Thursday, depicting the moment a gunman charged into the place of worship with an assault rifle and opened fire before congregants chased him away. 

    Images showing the receipt for a rifle, a hunting license, an alleged manifesto along with ammunition and protective gear found in the vehicle driven by the defendent were also entered into evidence. 

    John T. Earnest, 20 of San Diego, sat quietly next to his attorneys during the preliminary hearing. At various times during testimony, he made facial expressions and even a hand gesture toward the people sitting in the courtroom.

    Earnest faces murder and attempted murder charges, both with hate-crime and gun allegations, and arson of a house of worship in connection with the April 27 shooting and the March 24 fire at an Escondido mosque. 

    He also faces more than 110 federal charges.

    The Mount Carmel High School graduate and Cal State San Marcos nursing student has pleaded not guilty.

    Key Images of Poway Synagogue Shooting Court CaseKey Images of Poway Synagogue Shooting Court Case

    Earnest is believed to have acted alone when he burst into the Chabad of Poway synagogue on the last day of Passover, and opened fire with an assault rifle, killing beloved community member Lori Gilbert-Kaye and injuring three others, including the synagogue's rabbi and an 8-year-old girl, Noya Dahan.

    Cameras positioned both inside and outside the synagogue captured the less-than-three-minute incident on surveillance -- from the moment the suspect vehicle pulled up outside the church to the moment congregants chased him away. 

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    Oscar Stewart, an Army veteran and Chabad of Poway worshiper who is credited for running after the shooter, described the chaos when gunshots first rang out. 

    "They were trying to get out. Most of them were running towards the exit doors," Stewart said. "The sanctuary has numerous doors and they were running towards there. People were falling over each other; there was chaos." 

    Video from the lobby showed a gunman approach the synagogue's entrance; Kaye was struck immediately and thrown to the ground. Rabbi Israel Goldstein was also in the lobby area, the video shows; officials said he was struck in the hand.

    Stewart identified the man in court, Earnest, as the person who opened fire that day. 

    He said as he began to run towards the shooter, the gunman appeared to run out of ammunition. 

    "I told him I was going to kill him. I was trying to throw him off. I didn’t say it very politely. I yelled it and used some profanities also," he said.

    The video shows at least four congregants run after the suspect. The gunman then jumps into a vehicle across the street and drives off. 

    Listen: Suspect Calls 911 After Poway Synagogue ShootingListen: Suspect Calls 911 After Poway Synagogue Shooting

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    According to prosecutors, Earnest dialed 911 after fleeing the synagogue in his car and said: "I just shot up a synagogue."

    The 911 call was presented as evidence at the preliminary hearing. In it, a man tells a CHP dispatcher, "I’m just trying to defend my nation from the Jewish… the Jewish people." 

    The man stays on the phone with law enforcement for several minutes as they attempt to pinpoint his location; the man says he is parked waiting for them to arrive and describes what weapons he has, though says he will not use them. 

    San Diego police officer Jonathan Weis said he was the first to locate the suspect, who was sitting in a gray sedan parked in traffic lanes. Weis identified Earnest in court as the man he encountered that day. 

    "His first statement [to me] was, 'How’s your day going,'" Weis said. 

    Earnest was taken into custody without struggle, law enforcement said. 

    An alleged manifesto that prosecutors say was posted in the hours before the synagogue attack was presented as evidence in the afternoon session. 

    Mark Gonyea, a computer forensic examiner for the FBI, testified he found a document created on April 5 by an author identified in the computer software as "John T."

    Some questioned how Earnest purchased the gun, given a new California lawthat went into effect Jan. 1, 2019, banning anyone under the age of 21 from purchasing a firearm. The law does have some exceptions.

    According to the warrants, San Diego County sheriff’s deputies found a “hunting certificate” in Earnest’s bedroom but some question its validity.

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    Gonyea also testified there was an email on the computer found in the bedroom used by Earnest that included an email attachment showing completion of a hunter education course.

    A forensic evidence technician with the San Diego County Sheriff's Department testified she found a hunting license along with a receipt for a purchase of a gun on April 13 inside a dufflebag removed from the defendant's vehicle.

    The receipt reflects the purchase of an AR-15-style semi-automatic rifle from San Diego Guns on Mission Gorge Road.

    An image of evidence presented in the Sept. 19, 2019 pretrial hearing for John T. Earnest, the man accused of opening fire inside a Poway synagogue on the last day of Passover.
    Photo credit: NBC 7

    The technician testified a Smith and Wesson M&P-15 rifle was found in the defendant's car, along with five loaded magazines.

    She also testified there was a GoPro attached to a tactical helmet found inside Earnest's vehicle but that the GoPro was not turned on when discovered by law enforcement officers.

    Weeks before the synagogue shooting, Earnest allegedly poured flammable liquid on the side door of the Dar-ul-Arqam Mosque Escondido before early morning prayer in an attempt to set it on fire, according to charging documents. Graffiti that referenced the deadly New Zealand mosque shootings was scrawled outside. 

    He is believed to have taken responsibility for the mosque fire in an online posting. The post said it was inspired by the New Zealand mosque attacks that left 51 people dead and the shooting at the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh.

    Chilling Surveillance Video Shows Moment of Poway Synagogue ShootingChilling Surveillance Video Shows Moment of Poway Synagogue Shooting

    (Published Thursday, Sept. 19, 2019)

    According to court documents, Earnest boasted about how "easy" it is to burn down or shoot up a mosque, synagogue, immigration center or "traitorous" politicians. 

    Authorities said Earnest frequented dark corners of the web where people often post extremist, racist and violent views. In one posting, he allegedly said, "As an individual, I can only kill so many Jews."

    A SDPD K-9 officer testified on Sept. 19. 2019 that this is what he saw in the front seat of Earnest's car when he was taken into custody in Rancho Bernardo moments after a shooting at a Poway synagogue.

    Earnest does not have a criminal history and has no apparent connection with white supremacist groups, according to San Diego County Sheriff Bill Gore.

    "There is no indication at this point in the investigation that Earnest was part of an organized group. We believe he acted alone and without outside support in carrying out the attack," deputies said in a statement.

    In the days following the attack, Earnest's family wrote a letter condemning the alleged acts of their son as their "great shame."   

    A San Diego County Sheriff's Department detective testified Thursday that Earnest shared a bedroom with his brother in the family's home. Inside the bedroom were bunkbeds.   

    See a timeline of events from the Escondido mosque fire in March 2019 to the FBI's investigation and more, here

    Aftermath of the Poway Synagogue ShootingAftermath of the Poway Synagogue Shooting

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