Poway Synagogue Shooter Gets Second Life Sentence in San Diego Federal Court

By City News Service
City News Service
City News Service
December 28, 2021 Updated: December 28, 2021

SAN DIEGO—A young man who carried out a hate-motivated shooting at the Chabad of Poway that killed one woman and injured three other people was sentenced by a San Diego federal judge Dec. 28 to life in prison, plus 30 years.

John Timothy Earnest, 22, pleaded guilty in parallel state and federal prosecutions for the April 27, 2019, shooting, as well as for setting fire to the Dar-ul-Arqam Mosque in Escondido about a month prior to the shooting.

Earnest was also sentenced earlier this year to life in prison without the possibility of parole after pleading guilty to murder, attempted murder, and arson counts, sparing him a potential death sentence. He later pleaded guilty in the federal case to 113 federal counts related to hate crimes, civil rights, and weapons violations.

U.S. District Judge Anthony J. Battaglia opted to run Earnest’s federal life sentence consecutively with the state sentence. Battaglia referenced government sentencing documents indicating that a consecutive sentence would be “merely symbolic,” but said, “However, symbols are important. We have several. We have our flag. We have our government seal. … Hate is something that has to be addressed and must be held up as an example to all that it will not be tolerated.”

Prosecutors said 54 people were inside the synagogue when Earnest opened fire on the last day of Passover.

Lori Gilbert Kaye, 60, was shot in the synagogue’s lobby and died of her injuries. The congregation’s rabbi, Yisroel Goldstein, lost a finger, while two others—Almog Peretz and his then-8-year-old niece, Noya Dahan—were also injured.

Earnest was chased out of the synagogue by several congregants, then escaped in his car. He drove a short distance away and called 911, confessing that he had “just shot up a synagogue.”

In an online open letter posted shortly before the shooting, Earnest espoused flagrant anti-Semitic sentiments, a need to protect the “European race,” and wrote, “I can only kill so many Jews” and “I only wish I killed more.”

In the arson incident, seven missionaries were asleep inside the Dar-ul-Arqam Mosque at the time but were able to extinguish the flames and escape injury. Graffiti left outside the mosque paid tribute to a white supremacist who shot and killed more than 50 people in New Zealand earlier that month.

In court papers, Earnest’s defense attorneys request that he be housed in California, so that the former Rancho Penasquitos resident can be more easily visited by his family, which—his attorneys said—”can ultimately help him continue the path of reconciliation and redemption.”

Earnest’s attorneys wrote that he is remorseful and has “condemned his own actions in this case.”

The defense sentencing memorandum states that Earnest was “on course to lead a productive, meaningful, and law-abiding life” prior to “his rapid online radicalization.”

The document states, “The online world that John Earnest looked to for these self-identifying answers ultimately consumed him, leading to this tragic end.”

Battaglia said he would recommend that Earnest be housed in a federal facility, but noted it would be up to the Bureau of Prisons as to whether it would accept housing him.

U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland issued a statement underscoring the government’s commitment to prosecuting hate crimes.

“All people deserve to live and worship peacefully. This defendant’s conduct was an attempt to damage what makes our nation so great—our diversity,” Garland said. “The Department of Justice stands with our Jewish and Muslim community members, we reject hate in all forms, and we are committed to prosecuting bias-motivated violence to the fullest extent.”