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Lawyers fight death penalty for synagogue shooting suspect

FILE - This undated Pennsylvania Department of Transportation photo shows Robert Bowers. Federal prosecutors announced in August they would seek the death penalty for Bowers who is charged with killing 11 people inside the tree of Life synagogue. Bowers had offered to plead guilty in exchange for a life sentence. (Pennsylvania Department of Transportation via AP, File)
FILE - This undated Pennsylvania Department of Transportation photo shows Robert Bowers. Federal prosecutors announced in August they would seek the death penalty for Bowers who is charged with killing 11 people inside the tree of Life synagogue. Bowers had offered to plead guilty in exchange for a life sentence. (Pennsylvania Department of Transportation via AP, File)

Lawyers for the suspect in the synagogue shooting that killed 11 people in Pittsburgh have challenged his potential death sentence as unconstitutional.

Lawyers for Robert Bowers argued in court papers filed this week that capital punishment violates the Fifth Amendment’s due process clause and the Eighth Amendment’s ban on cruel and unusual punishment.

They also said the practice of carrying out federal executions in state prisons violates a Tenth Amendment protection that says states can’t be made to enforce federal laws, the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review reported Friday.

Defense lawyer Judy Clarke has made similar arguments in other high-profile capital cases. Her clients have included Boston Marathon bomber Dzhokhar Tasarnaev, who is appealing his 2015 death sentence, and “Unabomber” Ted Kaczynski, who entered a plea agreement that spared him the death penalty.

In court filings, Clarke said that she has tried to negotiate a life sentence for Bowers but that prosecutors have rebuffed her.

Bowers is charged with killing 11 congregants during a Shabbat service at the Tree of Life synagogue on Oct. 27, 2018, and injuring six others, including four police officers.

He has pleaded not guilty to 63 federal counts, 22 of which carry the death penalty. His defense team also includes public defenders Michael Novara and Elisa Long.

No trial date has been set.