Chabad of Poway Shooter Agrees to Life in Prison, Could Still See Death Penalty

The Chabad of Poway shooter pleaded guilty Tuesday to murder and other charges in connection to the fatal shooting that occurred on the last day of Passover in 2019, and is expected to receive life in prison without the possibility of parole.

John Earnest, 22, a former nursing student, entered the plea with the San Diego Superior Court to avoid the death penalty, agreeing to serve the rest of his life in prison without the possibility of parole. Sentencing with the San Diego County district attorney's office is scheduled for Sept. 30.

Under federal prosecution, Earnest may still face the death penalty. The U.S. attorney's office may seek capital punishment, but the decision has not been made yet.

For more reporting from the Associated Press, see below.

Chabad of Poway Rabbi
Rabbi Yisroel Goldstein speaks during the National Day of Prayer Service, in the Rose Garden of the White House in Washington, DC, on May 2, 2019. Rabbi Goldstein of Chabad of Poway was wounded on April 27 during deadly shooting at the synagogue in San Diego, and the shooter now faces life in prison without the possibility of parole. Brendan Smialowski/AFP via Getty Images

Earnest opened fire with a semi-automatic rifle during the last day of Passover services in April 2019 at Chabad of Poway. The attack killed 60-year-old Lori Gilbert-Kaye and wounded three others, including an 8-year-old girl and the rabbi, who lost a finger.

Earnest then called 911 to say he had shot up a synagogue because Jews were trying to "destroy all white people," authorities said.

Earnest faces similar charges in federal court, where federal prosecutors faced a deadline of Aug. 30 on whether to pursue the death penalty. His next appearance in federal court is Sept. 30. The U.S. attorney's office in San Diego did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Earnest submitted a conditional plea agreement for consideration by federal prosecutors on June 4, the San Diego County district attorney's office said.

The district attorney said it consulted the Kaye family and other victims before agreeing to the deal, aware that a possible plea arrangement in the federal prosecution would prevent the state's case from moving forward.

"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," the office said. "This plea ensures the defendant is held accountable for his crimes under California state law."

John Earnest
FILE - In this Sept. 19, 2019 file photo defendant John Earnest listens during testimony by a witness during a preliminary hearing in Superior Court in San Diego. Earnest pleaded guilty Tuesday, July 20, 2021, to murder and other charges in connection with a deadly shooting at a Southern California synagogue on the last day of Passover. John Gibbins/The San Diego Union-Tribune via AP, Pool, File