Search warrants in Poway synagogue shooting to be unsealed

SAN DIEGO — A San Diego County Superior Court judge ordered Thursday that 17 search warrants will be unsealed in the case of the man accused of opening fire at a Poway synagogue, killing one congregant and injuring several others.

Presiding Judge Peter C. Deddeh ruled there was no legal cause to keep records sealed in relation to the investigation into John T. Earnest, the 20-year-old who allegedly committed the April 27 shooting rampage at Chabad of Poway and the March 24 arson blaze at the Dar-ul- Arqam Mosque, also known as the Islamic Center of Escondido.

Deddeh will review the warrants with the District Attorney’s office to redact certain portions, such as the names of some investigating officers and civilian witnesses, but the warrants are expected to be available within one week.

Earnest is being prosecuted in federal and state court in separate but simultaneous cases, but the collective media organizations noted in their motion filed last month that federal authorities have unsealed two search warrants related to the investigation, while state courts had not.

“The Poway shooting and the resulting criminal investigation and case are matters of significant public interest,” the motion reads. “Releasing the records would add substantial transparency to this important public matter.”

The motion notes Earnest’s alleged racially motivated intentions for committing the shooting as a key basis for the request.

“The nature of the crimes at issue here, and their profound and sustained impact on the victims, families, and loved ones also calls out for a transparent process to ensure confidence in the judicial process and eventual outcome, and to provide a therapeutic value to the community through an open judicial process that instills confidence that justice is being served,” the motions reads.

Earnest faces a possible death sentence in both cases if convicted. Neither office has made a decision regarding whether to pursue the death penalty.

He’s charged with murder, attempted murder and arson in the state’s case, in addition to more than 100 federal counts related to hate crimes.

Authorities said Earnest, who lived with his parents and was studying nursing at Cal State San Marcos, confessed to both the shooting and the arson fire in an online manifesto posted prior to the synagogue shooting.

The defendant, who’s being held without bail, is accused of carrying out the shooting on the last day of Passover, killing Lori Gilbert Kaye, 60, who was shot twice in the synagogue’s foyer and died at a hospital.

The congregation’s rabbi, Yisroel Goldstein, 57, lost a finger in the shooting. Two other people — Almog Peretz, 34, and his 8-year-old niece, Noya Dahan — were also injured.

Kaye, a longtime member of Chabad of Poway, was at the temple with her physician husband and daughter the day of the shooting to honor her mother, who recently died. The congregation’s longtime rabbi lost his right index finger in the shooting. Peretz was shot in a leg while shepherding children to safety. His niece was struck by shrapnel in her face and leg.

An off-duty Border Patrol agent working as a security guard was inside the temple when the shooting began, and he opened fire as the suspect fled, San Diego County Sheriff Bill Gore said. The agent did not strike Earnest, but did hit the suspect’s car, authorities said.

Police said Earnest called 911 at around 11:30 a.m. and said he had been involved in the shooting and was armed.

According to the federal complaint, Earnest told a dispatcher, “I just shot up a synagogue. I’m just trying to defend my nation from the Jewish people … They’re destroying our people … I opened fire at a synagogue. I think I killed some people.” He allegedly added that he shot up the synagogue “because the Jewish people are destroying the white race.”

A San Diego police officer who had been en route to the synagogue spotted the suspect’s Honda Civic and pulled him over at 17051 W. Bernardo Drive, less than two miles west of the synagogue, Deputy District Attorney Leonard Trinh said. Earnest got out of his car with his hands up and was taken into custody without further incident.

In the “open letter” that authorities say Earnest posted online shortly before the shooting, the author espouses flagrant anti-Semitic sentiments and a need to protect the “European race.” He wrote that he spent four weeks planning the attack, citing his “disgust” for Jews and a desire to kill them, and expressed admiration for the Australian white nationalist who attacked two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand, in March, killing 50 people.

The writer also claimed responsibility for the March 24 blaze set at the Dar-ul-Arqam Mosque in Escondido. The 3:15 a.m. fire was quickly extinguished by people inside the mosque. Graffiti left on the building made reference to the mosques attacks in Christchurch.

Surveillance footage allegedly captured a suspect arriving at the mosque in the same type of vehicle in which Earnest was captured on the day of the synagogue shooting.

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