The suspect in an attack on a Jewish couple walking to a Beverly Hills, California, synagogue was charged Tuesday with multiple felony counts that could add up to life in prison.
Los Angeles County District Attorney George Gascón announced the charges at a news conference, saying rising antisemitic violence and other hate crimes will not be tolerated under his leadership.
The vow came amid a spate of violent and hateful incidents targeting Jews and people of Arab heritage against the backdrop of the Israel-Hamas war.
“Our nation is facing a crisis of hate crime, and these cases are symptoms of that,” Gascón said, adding that his office will “continue to aggressively prosecute these cases.”
Jarris Jay Silagi, 44, was arrested moments after the crime by Beverly Hills police officers, whose headquarters are just steps away from the attack Saturday morning.
Charges filed Monday include one count of attempted second-degree robbery, one count of injurious elder abuse, one count of assault with a deadly weapon and two counts of assault by means of force, with an enhancement allegation that the attack was likely to produce great bodily injury, the DA’s office said in a statement.
At the news conference, Gascón added that a hate enhancement allegation was also a part of the filing, with prosecutor Paul Kim saying such enhancements could add three years per count to any sentence if the case reaches that stage.
In all, the charges could add up to a maximum sentence of life in prison if the DA prevails, according to the office. Prosecutors asked the court to set bail at $1.31 million.
Silagi, whom Kim described as homeless, pleaded not guilty Tuesday, according to his counsel.
“As appointed counsel for Mr. Silagi, we entered a plea of not guilty on his behalf after the court declared a doubt of his competency,” Los Angeles County Public Defender Greg McCambridge said in a statement late Tuesday.
“Like anyone charged with a crime, Mr. Silagi is presumed innocent and entitled to a vigorous defense,” he said. “We are sensitive to the intense public interest this matter has generated, but caution against a rush to judgment until all the facts are established in court.”
The court’s doubt could trigger pretrial proceedings to determine whether Silagi is competent to stand trial.
According to police, witnesses and the victims, the attacker struck the man in the head without warning before he yelled at the man’s wife, “Give me your earrings, Jew,” recalled the 70-year-old woman, who wanted to be identified only by her first name, Rebecca.
Though he was struck multiple times, the 75-year-old man, who wanted to be identified only as Raphy, gathered himself, and both of them went after the attacker, the couple said, before police took him into custody.
The couple were on their weekly walk to Beverly Hills Synagogue, where Raphy participates in the weekly reading of scripture, Rabbi Pini Dunner said.
In 2012 it was alleged Silagi tried to take someone’s phone by force in the outdoor dining patio of a Beverly Hills restaurant, according to court documents.
He was convicted of second-degree robbery and sentenced to five years in prison.