Lackey seeks death penalty for Poway synagogue shooting suspect

Tom Lackey speaks during a town hall open forum/ Skylar Barti The Signal

In a letter addressed to the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of California, Assemblyman Tom Lackey, R-Palmdale, called for U.S. Attorney Robert Brewer Jr. to file federal hate crimes charges and pursue the death penalty against the suspect in the Chabad of Poway synagogue attack.

“On April 27, 2019, an armed intruder entered the Chabad of Poway synagogue and opened fire on worshipers gathered for Passover services while yelling obscenities and anti-Semitic slurs,” the letter states in the opening paragraph.

Citing California’s unwillingness to impose the death penalty and the state’s lax sentencing laws for young offenders, Lackey said in the letter that he decided to pursue justice on the federal level for multiple reasons.

“Though (the suspect) can be charged under California law for murder, attempted murder, hate crimes and firearm use, federal convictions will better ensure that (John) Earnest receives a sentence that is commensurate with the seriousness of his offense,” Lackey said in the letter, before listing the state legislation and programs that might allow the alleged gunman to avoid serving a full sentence.

Due to the shooter’s age, if he is convicted in state court and sentenced to anything less than life without the possibility of parole, he will be eligible for release after 25 years under the state’s “youthful offender parole hearing” program, a news release stated.

Earnest, 19, could also benefit from proposed legislation, Assembly Bill 965, which would allow for early release credits to be earned — thus creating the possibility that he could be released after serving less than 12 years in custody.

“That would result in the shooter returning to the streets before his youngest victim graduates college,” Lackey said in Monday’s news release.

Earlier in the year, Gov. Gavin Newsom said he would refuse to carry out death sentences for the more than 700 inmates currently on death row and also indicated that he may prohibit California prosecutors from pursuing the death penalty in state court, but Lackey was displeased with this decision.

“We need to send a message – religiously motivated violence has no place in our society. Unfortunately, ill-conceived laws to weaken sentences for violent criminals do the exact opposite,” Lackey said. “If California won’t stand up against this kind of violence, the federal government should.”

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