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California synagogue shooter pleads guilty to more than 100 federal hate crimes

Prosecutors to recommend a life sentence plus 30 years for John T. Earnest, who had already pleaded guilty in state court to the 2019 attack.
Image: John T. Earnest, Accused Synagogue Shooter John Earnest Arraigned In San Diego County Court
John T. Earnest stands at his arraignment hearing in San Diego County Superior Court, in San Diego, Calif., on April 30, 2019.Nelvin C. Cepeda / Pool via Getty Images file

The California man who opened fire on a Poway synagogue in a 2019 attack that killed one person and wounded others pleaded guilty to more than 100 federal hate crime charges Friday.

John T. Earnest, 22, earlier this year pleaded guilty to state counts and agreed to a sentence of life in prison without the possibility of parole.

Federal prosecutors and Earnest will jointly recommend a life sentence plus 30 years, the U.S. Attorney's Office for the Southern District of California said. Earnest pleaded guilty to a 113-count indictment.

Earnest walked into the Chabad of Poway synagogue north of San Diego with a Smith & Wesson M&P 15 rifle and opened fire, killing Lori Gilbert-Kaye, 60, and wounding the rabbi, an 8-year-old girl and her uncle.

He fled and called 911, saying that he was the shooter and that the Jewish people were "destroying the white race," officials have said. He also wrote a hate-filled manifesto that was posted online before the attack.

In a plea agreement, Earnest admitted to planning the April 27, 2019, attack for weeks, prosecutors said. He wore what was described as a chest rig with five additional 10-round ammunition magazines.

Earnest fired the 10-round magazine in the rifle until it was empty, and he tried to reload it but was unsuccessful as congregants rushed to confront him and then he fled, the FBI has said.

He also admitted to setting fire to a mosque in Escondido, California, in March 2019. No one was hurt.

Sentencing in the state case has been scheduled for Sept. 30. Online court records did not appear to show when sentencing is scheduled in the federal case.

The state plea agreement avoided the possibility of the death penalty. The agreed-upon sentence in that case is life in prison without the possibility of parole plus 121 years, the district attorney has said.

The federal crimes carried the possibility of a death sentence, but on Aug. 30, prosecutors filed a notice with the court they would not seek it.

"This nation stands with Lori Gilbert Kaye’s family and the survivors of these unspeakable acts of terror,” said Randy S. Grossman, acting U.S. attorney for the southern district of California.

“We emphatically reject the defendant’s hate, racism and prejudice, and we hope the conclusion of this case brings some measure of comfort to all those affected by his heinous crimes," he said.