California Gunman Sentenced to Life in Prison Without Parole for Deadly Synagogue Shooting

John Earnest shot and killed one woman and injured three others when he attacked a Southern California synagogue in April 2019

John T. Earnest
Photo: Howard Lipin/The San Diego Union-Tribune via AP

A white supremacist who shot and killed one worshipper and injured three others when he attacked a Southern California synagogue has been sentenced to life in prison.

John T. Earnest, 22, did not receive the death penalty after pleading guilty to murder in July. Under a plea deal, he was sentenced Thursday to life in prison without possibility of parole for murder and attempted murder in the 2019 shooting at the Chabad of Poway synagogue, Associated Press reported.

Earnest also pleaded guilty to arson after setting fire to a nearby mosque in March 2019. His conviction carries life in prison without parole, plus 137 years in prison — 121 years to life and an additional 16 years.

Earnest opened fire on a group of nearly 100 worshippers with an AR-15 style rifle during a service on the last day of Passover in April 2019, killing 60-year-old Lori Gilbert Kaye and injuring the congregation's rabbi, an 8-year-old-girl and her uncle, Almog Peretz.

After the shooting, Earnest identified himself to authorities by calling 911 and saying he had attacked the synagogue "to save white people," per AP. "I'm defending our nation against the Jewish people, who are trying to destroy all white people," he said at the time, the outlet reported.

Hannah Kaye, Lori's daughter, gave a victim impact statement at the hearing Thursday, where she described her late mother as her best friend, per The New York Times.

Hannah had been at the synagogue that day, where she and her mother entered the building together, but she sat down while her mother remained in the lobby, where she was shot and killed by Earnest.

"Suddenly, in an instant, the earth literally shifted," Hannah said, adding, the "taste of gunpowder entered my mouth."

Peretz was "emotionally unprepared" to testify at Thursday's hearing, AP reported, but his statement was read by a Hebrew translator, who shared that Peretz said the shooting killed his "body and soul."

Earnest wanted to make a statement during the hearing, said his attorney John O'Connell, but he was denied by San Diego Superior Court Judge Peter Deddeh, per AP.

"I'm not going to let him use this as a platform to add to his celebrity," Deddeh said.

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The gunman's parents called Earnest's shooting a "terrifying mystery."

"To our great shame, he is now part of the history of evil that has been perpetrated on Jewish people for centuries," they said in a statement released after the shooting.

On Thursday, they shared, "our hearts are heavy and our sadness profound."

Earnest will also be sentenced in federal court in December after he pleaded guilty to a 113-count federal indictment, per The Times. The Justice Department does not plan to seek the death penalty, but will recommend life in prison, plus 30 years.

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