Friday, July 22, 2011

TOP STORY > >Islam is blamed for shooting

Leader staff writer

The trial of Abdulhakim Muhammad, who is accused of killing one Army recruiter and critically wounding another, recessed Friday afternoon for the weekend and will begin again at 10 a.m. Monday.

The prosecution finished presenting its case late Thursday, and the defense spent most of Friday presenting character witnesses not to show that Muhammad was a good person but that the accused was a good person until he converted to Islam and journeyed to Yemen.

One boyhood friend said he didn’t even recognize what Muhammad had become.

The prosecution spent two days having police officers and others who responded to the scene, those who interviewed Muhammad and investigated the incident, show that Muhammad was the shooter who on June 1, 2009 killed Pvt. William Long of Conway and seriously injured Pvt. Quinton Ezeagwula of Jacksonville.

The prosecution also showed two videotapes where Muhammad confessed to the shootings.

The defense is acknowledging that Muhammad was the shooter, but is focusing on showing how he changed over the years and at the time of the incident was suffering from “mental defect or disease” which is why he committed the crime.

One of Friday’s defense witnesses was Dr. Shawn Agharkar, a forensic psychiatrist, who said that Muhammad suffers from a delusionary disorder. 
He added that the accused has delusions of grandeur and thinks that he’s being persecuted.

In opening statements Wednes-day, Pulaski County Prosecutor Larry Jegley showed a picture of Muhammad’s victim, Pvt. William Andrew “Andy” Long, saying, “This is why we’re here.”

He continued to describe the shooting outside a Little Rock recruiting station that killed Long and injured Ezeagwula of Jacksonville. Born Carlos Bledsoe, Muhammad is accused of shooting the soldiers outside a Little Rock recruiting station.

The soldiers were taking a smoke break in front of the building.

Jegley told the jurors that Muhammad watched a Dutch film about the rape and murder of Muslims the night before the shooting and claims his actions were retaliation to U.S. policy in the Middle East.

Jegley pointed a finger at the defendant and, looking at the jurors, said, “They (the shots) were fired by this man. We’re here today because this man did it.”

He added that the victims of the attack had recently completed basic training and been allowed to go home before being deployed. The two were scheduled to be deployed — Long to South Korea and Ezeagwula to Hawaii — the week following the shooting.

Jegley said Long “was a son, a brother and a friend who died fighting for the United States Army.”

Jegley urged jurors to convict Muhammad on the basis that the defendant was sane on the day he committed the crimes he is accused of — capital murder, attempted capital murder and 10 counts of unlawful discharge of a firearm from a vehicle.

“You are going to have the opportunity to hear and see him on the day he did what he did…This man was not suffering from a mental disorder and even if he was—and I’m not conceding that he was—it wasn’t a substantial amount. He wasn’t grossly impaired,”
Jegley insisted.

One of Muhammad’s defense attorneys, Patrick Benca, countered for the defense.

He gave the jurors a little background on the killer who used to be a “jokester” and “fun-loving” until his 18th birthday, when family, lifelong friends, and others began to notice him withdraw.

Muhammad studied several religions before converting to Islam and changing his name. He went to Yemen for 18 months, looking for “enlightenment.” He taught English there.

He was arrested in Yemen and held in custody for three months. Benca emphasized that his client’s isolation only increased and he couldn’t hold a job in Yemen or in the U.S.

He shared that when Muham-mad returned home, he was welcomed by his always-loving family and friends at a party, but chose to go out to his car and sleep there because he was uncomfortable because of his isolated state.

Benca acknowledged that his client killed Long and injured Ezeagwula in the attack. “It was horrible. It made me pray for the families, no question about that. But what it didn’t tell, it didn’t tell the whole story,” he said.

Wednesday’s witnesses in-cluded Long’s mother, Janet, and Ezeagwula.

She was sitting in her car in the parking lot at the center waiting to pick her son up from work. She said she saw him and another soldier come out of the building for a smoke break but, because he was talking to that soldier, she didn’t approach him and went back to reading. Then she heard “three bursts” of shots and ducked down in reaction.

Janet said she didn’t see her son at first because there were numerous people gathered around and she didn’t want to believe he had been hurt.

“I was looking for Andy’s face in the crowd of faces. I think you don’t want to know that’s your son.”

She found out later at the hospital that Andy had passed away from his injuries.

Ezeagwula testified that he and Long had been on a smoke break. He was hesitant to say he was smoking, and those in the courtroom laughed when he explained that his mother doesn’t like the habit.

He said he tried to run after being hit by bullet fragments in the head, back and buttocks, but fell down and played dead until he saw the truck pull away. When he got inside the recruiting center, Ezeagwula said he remembered seeing papers floating everywhere and people asking him if he was OK.

Ezeagwula said he touched his head, felt blood on his hands and “I was like ‘I think I got shot’ and then I fell on the ground.”

Jegley asked the soldier what he feels when he touches the back of his head now and Ezeagwula said there is still shrapnel there. He has undergone multiple surgeries to remove most of it and walks with a limp that he tries to hide to “play it cool.”