California synagogue shooter sentenced to life in federal prison

John T. Earnest entered the Chabad of Poway near San Diego, California in 2019 and opened fire on a crowd of worshippers, killing one and injuring three.

John Earnest, accused of killing one and injuring three others while shooting up a synagogue in Poway, Calif., in April 2019, during his preliminary hearing on Thursday, Sept. 19, 2019, in Superior Court San Diego (photo credit: JOHN GIBBINS/SAN DIEGO UNION-TRIBUNE/TNS)
John Earnest, accused of killing one and injuring three others while shooting up a synagogue in Poway, Calif., in April 2019, during his preliminary hearing on Thursday, Sept. 19, 2019, in Superior Court San Diego
(photo credit: JOHN GIBBINS/SAN DIEGO UNION-TRIBUNE/TNS)

Chabad of Poway shooter John T. Earnest was sentenced in the Southern District of California Federal Court on Tuesday to life in prison plus an additional 30 years.

Earnest, who attacked the congregation in Southern California, had been sentenced to life three months ago in a state court, although this ruling comes down from a US federal court and will lead to his incarceration at a federal facility.

In 2019, Earnest entered the Chabad of Poway near San Diego and opened fire on a crowd of worshipers, killing one and wounding three. The attack took place on the last day of Passover. He was also charged with setting fire to a mosque in Escondido, California, five days after the New Zealand Christchurch attacks that killed 51 people at two mosques in 2019.

Lori Gilbert Kaye, 60, was shot in the synagogue several times and eventually succumbed to her wounds. Yisroel Goldstein, the congregation’s rabbi, lost a finger, while two others – Almog Peretz and his then-eight-year-old niece, Noya Dahan – were also wounded.

The shooter had uploaded an antisemitic manifesto to online forum site “8chan” shortly before the attack, where he described himself as “a man of European ancestry... blessed by God for such a magnificent bloodline,” and said the Jewish people were “responsible for the meticulously planned genocide of the human race.”

Rabbi Yisrael Goldstein, UN Secretary General Guterres, Ambassador Danon, and Hannah Kaye and Randi Grossman (the daughter and sister of Lori Gilbert Kaye, respectively) (credit: ISRAEL MISSION TO THE UN)Rabbi Yisrael Goldstein, UN Secretary General Guterres, Ambassador Danon, and Hannah Kaye and Randi Grossman (the daughter and sister of Lori Gilbert Kaye, respectively) (credit: ISRAEL MISSION TO THE UN)

US District Judge Anthony Battaglia said the federal and state life sentences would run one after the other instead of concurrently – acknowledging that the sentencing was symbolic, but that it was nonetheless meant to send a strong message.

Earnest previously pleaded guilty to a 113-count indictment that included 54 counts of violating the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act, 55 counts of violating the Church Arson Prevention Act, and four firearms offenses, according to the Justice Department.

“All people in this country should be able to freely exercise their religion without fear of being attacked,” said Attorney-General Merrick B. Garland. “This defendant’s horrific crime was an assault on fundamental principles of our nation.”

“Today we stand with the family of Lori Gilbert Kaye, the wounded, and all who suffered as a result of the defendant’s heinous crimes,” said US Attorney Randy Grossman of the Southern District of California. “The United States Attorney’s Office and our law enforcement partners reject all forms of hatred and prejudice, and we will relentlessly pursue justice for the victims of bias-motivated violence.”