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Poway synagogue shooting suspect charged with 109 hate crimes

A chilling account in a federal affidavit describes a deeply disturbed man filled with hatred toward Jews and Muslims.

SAN DIEGO — At News 8 we have avoided showing the accused Poway gunman's face or saying his name when possible, but we are making an exception for court appearances.

The 19-year-old suspect in a fatal shooting at a Poway synagogue on Tuesday plead not guilty to more than 100 federal hate crime charges alleging he acted out of hatred toward the Jewish and Muslim communities.

John T. Earnest is accused of bursting into the Chabad of Poway synagogue on April 27 and opening fire with an assault rifle, killing one and injuring three.

Following his initial appearance Tuesday afternoon, he's slated to return to court May 28 for a preliminary hearing. He remains held without bail.

He was charged last Thursday with 109 federal hate crimes:

-- 54 counts of obstruction of free exercise of religious beliefs using a dangerous weapon, resulting in death, bodily injury and attempts to kill;

-- 54 counts of hate crimes stemming from the synagogue shooting in violation of the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act; and

-- one count of damage to religious property by use of fire.

Each of the 54 hate crime and obstruction of free exercise of religious beliefs counts apply to a person who was inside the synagogue during the shooting. Among those people, 12 of the congregants present were children, he said.

He could face the death penalty if convicted. 

A chilling account in a federal affidavit describes a deeply disturbed man filled with hatred toward Jews and Muslims, which are detailed in a letter he allegedly published online. He claimed to be inspired by the attacks on the mosques in New Zealand and the shooting at the Pittsburgh Tree of Life synagogue last fall, the affidavit said.

RELATED: Man accused in fatal Poway synagogue shooting charged with federal hate crimes

Earnest allegedly dialed 911 after fleeing the synagogue in his car and said: "I just shot up a synagogue." He went on to tell the dispatcher that he thought he had killed some people and that he did it "because Jewish people are destroying the white race," according to the affidavit. He was quickly arrested without a struggle.

Earnest is also charged in state court with murder, attempted murder and arson. 

He has pleaded not guilty to murdering 60-year-old Lori Kaye, who was hit twice as she prayed in the synagogue foyer, and injuring Rabbi Yisroel Goldstein, who was leading the service, an eight-year-old girl and her uncle.

His next court hearing in the state's case is a readiness conference set for May 30. 

RELATED: San Diego synagogue shooting suspect pleads not guilty, DA discusses charges

Earnest has also pleaded not guilty to trying to burn a mosque in the nearby community of Escondido, where seven people on a spiritual retreat were sleeping, according to the affidavit. They awoke to flames licking at the door and managed to extinguish the fire, which charred a wall.

Outside the mosque was the scrawled name of the man accused of carrying out shootings at two mosques in New Zealand that killed 50 people.

Earnest is due back in federal court May 28.

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