Synagogue Shooter Pleads Guilty, Will Serve Life in Prison

John T. Earnest, 22, pleaded guilty today to murder and other charges in San Diego Superior Court in connection with a deadly shooting at the Chabad of Poway synagogue two years ago. There were 54 people inside the synagogue when Earnest entered the lobby and opened fire with an assault-style rifle on April 27, 2019. Lori Gilbert-Kaye, 60, was killed in the attack. Rabbi Yisroel Goldstein was shot in both hands, causing him to lose an index finger, and Noya D., then 8, and her uncle, Almog Peretz, were wounded.

Earnest pleaded guilty to the willful, deliberate, premeditated murder of Ms. Kaye, and the willful, deliberate, and premeditated attempted murder of Rabbi Goldstein, Almog Peretz, and Noya D. Earnest admitted that he committed those crimes because of his bias and hatred of Jews, and he admitted that he personally discharged a firearm causing death and great bodily injury. He also pleaded guilty to the arson at the Dar-ul-Arqam mosque for the purpose of terrorizing Muslim worshipers.

Earnest agreed to serve the rest of his life in prison without the possibility of parole, plus 121 years-to-life and 16 years in state prison. A sentencing hearing has been set for September 30, 2021 at 9:00 a.m. in Department 2104 downtown.

The San Diego County District Attorney’s Office released the following statement:

“While we reserved the option of trying this as a death penalty case, life in prison without the possibility of parole for the defendant is an appropriate resolution to this violent hate crime and we hope it brings a measure of justice and closure to the victims, their families, friends and the wider community. After consulting with the Kaye family and the many victims impacted by the shooting, the decision to accept a plea of life in prison was made in the interest of justice and with the knowledge that a parallel prosecution by the U.S. Attorney’s Office and possible plea in that case would prevent the state’s case from moving forward. This plea ensures the defendant is held accountable for his crimes under California state law.”

Earnest Prosecution Timeline:

  • Crime occurred on April 27, 2019.
  • Arraigned on state charges on April 30, 2019.
  • Arraigned on federal charges on May 14, 2019.
  • Earnest submitted a conditional plea agreement on June 4, 2021 for consideration by federal prosecutors.
  • Deadline for federal prosecutors to announce a decision regarding the death penalty is August 30, 2021.
  • Earnest is next due in federal court on September 8, 2021.
  • Sentencing on state charges set for September 30, 2021.