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UPDATE: Suspect in Poway Synagogue Shooting Pleads Not Guilty

Ameera Butt
May 14, 2019 - 5:02 pm
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John Earnest, the suspect accused of opening fire inside the Poway synagogue, pleaded not guilty to federal hate crime charges Tuesday. Earnest spoke twice during the brief hearing — to acknowledge his name and to say he agreed with his court-appointed attorney's decision against seeking bail.

Peter Ko, an assistant U.S. attorney, told the judge that the government had not decided whether to seek the death penalty. He reaffirmed plans to try Earnest separately and simultaneously with a state charge of murder that is classified as a hate crime, which also exposes Earnest to a potential death sentence.

Federal officials filed 109 hate crime charges against Earnest.

The shooting happened on April 27 and killed 60-year-old Lori Kaye who was shot twice in the synagogue's foyer and later died at a hospital.

Earnest is also accused of setting fire to the Islamic Center of Escondido in March.

He's being charged by both federal and state prosecutors and faces a possible death sentence in both cases.

"This federal complaint alleges that these crimes were explicitly motivated by hatred for the Jewish and Muslim community. It also alleges the defendant posted a manifesto online in which he claimed to be inspired by hate-motivated killers responsible or for the Tree of Life synagogue shootings in Pittsburgh and the Christchurch New Zealand mosque shooting," US Attorney Robert Brewer said.

Brewer says based on the charges 19-year-old John Earnest faces life in prison and the death penalty.

Earnest has pleaded not guilty to state charges of murder and attempted murder and also pleaded not guilty to burning a mosque in nearby Escondido.

Earnest has pleaded not guilty to state murder charges in the death of 60-year-old Lori Kaye, who was hit twice as she prayed in the synagogue foyer. Wounded were Rabbi Yisroel Goldstein, who was leading the service, an 8-year-old girl and her uncle.

Noya Dahan, 8, said she hid by herself watching the nightmare unfold. "I knew that something was wrong because it wasn't adding up to me, because I heard loud sounds," Noya told CBS News. "It was very, very scary, and I'm not supposed to go through this stuff."

He also pleaded not guilty to state and federal charges of trying to burn a mosque in the nearby city of Escondido.

Outside the mosque was the scrawled name of the man suspected of carrying out shootings at two mosques in New Zealand that killed 50 people.

An hour before the attack, the suspect allegedly wrote an anti-Jewish online screed.

At the time of the Poway attack, the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh said in a statement that "we are heartbroken — and appalled and outraged. ... This must stop."

Last month, the FBI said it got tips about a threatening social media post about five minutes before a deadly attack on a synagogue near San Diego but it was too late to identify the suspect.

-AP/CBS News contributed to this report