Prosecutor says he won’t waive death penalty in Arkansas recruiter shooting

By Andrew Demillo, AP
Friday, January 22, 2010

Prosecutor cool to plea shift in recruiter killing

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. — A prosecutor said Friday he won’t waive the death penalty in the slaying of a soldier outside an Arkansas military recruiting center after the suspect asked to change his plea and claimed ties to al-Qaida.

Pulaski County Prosecutor Larry Jegley said he still planned to move forward with the June trial of Abdulhakim Muhammad, who faces capital murder and attempted capital murder charges. Pvt. William Long of Conway was killed in the June 1 shooting in Little Rock. Pvt. Quinton Ezeagwula of Jacksonville was wounded.

Muhammad has sent a letter to the judge in his case asking to change his plea to guilty. In the two-page, handwritten letter, Muhammad claims that he is affiliated with an al-Qaida offshoot in Yemen.

“My lawyer has no defense,” Muhammad wrote in the two-page letter, dated Jan. 12. “I wasn’t insane or post-traumatic nor was I forced to do this act.”

Muhammad wrote that he believed the shooting was justified under Islamic law.

Muhammad’s attorney says that under Arkansas law prosecutors would have to agree to waive the death penalty for a judge to consider the request. Jegley said Friday that he still planned to go to trial June 7 in the case.

“Mr. Muhammad is not calling the shots and I don’t care what he says or what he writes,” Jegley said Friday. “None of that makes a difference in my analysis of the case. He’s not the person who’s in charge of the prosecution.”

In letter, Muhammad described himself as a soldier in al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula and called the shooting “a Jihadi Attack.”

Muhammad also called himself in the letter a member of “Abu Basir’s Army,” a reference to the alias of Naser Abdel Karim al-Wahishi, the Yemeni group’s leader.

“This was a jihad: attack on infidel forces. That didn’t go as plan. Flat out truth,” Muhammad wrote in the letter.

The Yemen-based al-Qaida branch has become a pressing concern for U.S. security in recent months after the group claimed responsibility for the attempted Christmas Day bombing of a Detroit-bound American airliner. Yemeni officials say the Nigerian man charged in that failed attack also may have had contact with Anwar al-Awlaki, a radical American-Yemeni Islamic cleric with ties to al-Qaida who also has been linked to an Army psychiatrist charged with killing 13 people at Fort Hood in November.

Claiborne Ferguson, Muhammad’s attorney, said Thursday that his client didn’t consult him before sending the letter and didn’t know how seriously to take his claims of terror ties. A spokeswoman for the FBI in Little Rock declined to comment on Muhammad’s claims.

“He’s said lots of things. None of them seem to be real consistent with each other,” Ferguson said. “I’m a little irritated with it.”

Muhammad was arrested about eight miles from the recruiting center, on Interstate 630, shortly after the shootings. Police said they recovered Molotov cocktails, three guns and ammunition from his pickup truck. An internal law enforcement memo said Muhammad may have considered other targets, including military sites and Jewish organizations in the Southeast.

A law enforcement official told The Associated Press in June that Muhammad had been under investigation by an FBI-led terrorism task force since he returned to the United States from Yemen in 2008. Muhammad, who was born Carlos Bledsoe, had moved to Little Rock to work in his father’s Memphis-based tour bus company as it branched out.

Muhammad, who has called the AP twice since his arrest, has claimed responsibility for the shooting and said it was justified because of what he called American-directed hostilities toward the Muslim world.

Last week, Pulaski County Circuit Judge Herbert Wright Jr. ordered the state public defenders commission to pay some of the legal bills for Muhammad’s trial, which is scheduled to begin in June. Ferguson was hired by Muhammad’s family to represent him.

In the letter, Muhammad also tells Wright that he does not want to receive funds for his defense.

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