San Diego

Man Pleads Not Guilty in Deadly Poway Synagogue Attack

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

A man charged with a deadly Passover shooting at a Southern California synagogue pleaded not guilty to murder.

John T. Earnest entered pleas in San Diego to charges of hate crime-related murder, attempted murder and other charges included in an updated complaint. A hate crime-related murder conviction would make Earnest eligible for the death penalty, though prosecutors have not said what punishment they plan to seek.

Prosecutors said the 20-year-old nursing student, armed with a semi-automatic rifle, opened fire during a Passover service at the Chabad of Poway synagogue in San Diego County on April 27.

The attack killed 60-year-old Lori Gilbert-Kaye and wounded three others, including an 8-year-old girl and the rabbi, who lost a finger.

A witness in the synagogue shooting hopes his experience will shine a light on the long-lasting mental pain of surviving a tragedy. NBC 7's Danny Freeman has more.

During a preliminary hearing in September, prosecutors played a 12-minute recording of the gunman calmly telling a 911 dispatcher that he had just "shot up" a synagogue to save white people from Jews, describing terms for a peaceful surrender and scolding law enforcement for taking too much time to find him in his parked car.

The recording was heard publicly for the first time during a dramatic day in court that included surveillance video of the shooting and a congregant describing how he singlehandedly confronted the gunman and chased him away.

"I'm defending our nation against the Jewish people, who are trying to destroy all white people," the 911 caller, who identified himself as John Earnest, told the dispatcher in an even, almost casual tone.

Key Images of Poway Synagogue Shooting Court Case

The day before the synagogue shooting, Earnest bought a Smith & Wesson AR-15 rifle from a San Diego gun shop, according to federal charges. Officials have said he bought the gun legally.

Weeks before the attack, Earnest tried to burn down a mosque in nearby Escondido, where seven people on a spiritual retreat were sleeping, prosecutors said. The group awoke to flames and managed to extinguish the fire.

The suspect allegedly also scrawled on the outside of the mosque the name of the man accused of opening fire at two mosques in New Zealand earlier this year in a mass attack that left 51 people dead.

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

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