San Diego Synagogue Shooting Suspect Pleads Not Guilty

A San Diego county sheriff’s deputy stands in front of the Poway Chabad Synagogue in Poway, Calif., on April 28, 2019. (AP Photo/Denis Poroy, File)

SAN DIEGO (CN) – Appearing before San Diego Superior Court’s presiding judge Thursday, the 20-year-old man accused of shooting and killing a synagogue congregant during the sacred Jewish holiday of Passover this past spring pleaded not guilty to murder and hate crime charges.

John T. Earnest was arraigned Thursday by Presiding Judge Peter Deddeh following a preliminary hearing last month in which Deddeh found sufficient evidence for Earnest to stand trial on a raft of charges, including murder and attempted murder.

Earnest faces charges in the murder of Lori Kaye, with a special circumstance due to religion, as well as hate crime enhancements on attempted murder charges relating to three congregants who were injured during the shooting.

He also faces a charge of arson stemming from a fire at the Dar-ul-Arqam mosque in Escondido in March. The fire was put out by congregants.

The U.S. Department of Justice has also filed federal hate crime charges against Earnest in the Southern District of California.

Officers arrested Earnest near the Chabad of Poway synagogue on April 27 after he called 911 and told the dispatcher he had just “shot up” a synagogue to save white people from Jews, according to a 12-minute recording played during the preliminary hearing.

Kaye was killed in the shooting and Rabbi Yisroel Goldstein’s right index finger was shot off. A young girl and her uncle were also wounded.

Deputy District Attorney David Grapilon told reporters following Thursday’s hearing the trial will likely begin in late spring or early summer 2020.

He said prosecutors will not decide whether to pursue the death penalty in the case for at least a month or two.

“There’s a lot of work that goes into the decision, particularly research into the defendant’s background is in progress as well as communicating with the victims, family members and people who were affected by this crime,” Grapilon said.

A status conference in the case is scheduled for Dec. 5. A trial date will likely be set at the hearing.

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