Synagogue Shooting Suspect Will Stand Trial on Murder Charge

Murder defendant John Earnest smirks during testimony by witness Oscar Stewart during a preliminary hearing on Thursday in San Diego Superior Court. (John Gibbins/The San Diego Union-Tribune via AP)

SAN DIEGO (CN) – The 20-year-old man accused of shooting and killing a congregant at a synagogue in San Diego County during the sacred Jewish Holiday of Passover this past April will stand trial on a raft of charges including murder, a judge ruled Friday.

San Diego Superior Court Presiding Judge Peter Deddeh found John T. Earnest should stand trial in the shooting death of Lori Kaye and the wounding of several other people, including Rabbi Yisroel Goldstein and a young girl and her uncle. Prosecutors say Earnest fired an AR-15 automatic rifle indiscriminately at congregants at the Chabad of Poway synagogue on April 27, the last day of Passover.

In addition to murder and attempted murder charges, Earnest faces charges for arson stemming from a fire prosecutors say he set at the Dar-ul-Arqam Mosque and Islamic Center in Escondido in March.

He faces life in prison without the possibility of parole or the death penalty if convicted.

Prosecutors on Thursday played a 12-minute recording of Earnest 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 Earnest and chased him away.

Earnest sat stone-faced with his arms folded on his lap during hours of testimony Thursday about the attack on the Chabad of Poway synagogue on April 27, the last day of Passover.

“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.

Earnest gave the dispatcher details of where he was waiting for police in his Honda Civic, naming businesses he saw. He promised to leave his AR-15 assault rifle on the passenger seat and get out of the car with a supply of bullets hanging on the chest of his vest, as if his surrender had been planned in advance.

As the caller spoke about his hatred of Jews, another dispatcher steered him back to describing where he was. He readily answered all questions.

Twice during the call, he expressed impatience that law enforcement hadn’t arrived, saying they were bad at their jobs.

“You guys are taking a long-ass time. You realize you’re fighting the wrong people?” he said.

San Diego police Officer Jonathan Wiese testified that he sped north on Interstate 15 at about 130 mph as reports of a shooting in suburban Poway came in over his radio. It took him just under 10 minutes to find Earnest alone.

The suspect got out of his car as promised, kneeled as ordered, then rose to his feet after being handcuffed.

“His first statement was, ‘How’s your day going?’” said Wiese, who responded with profanity to indicate it was going badly.

Wiese, who is white, said Earnest asked him if he knew “what the Jews have done to our race.”

Earnest has pleaded not guilty to the charges and is scheduled to be arraigned by Deddeh on Oct. 3. He is being held without bond.

He is represented by public defender John O’Connell. San Diego Deputy District Attorney Leonard Trinh is prosecuting the case.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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