Trial delayed for man charged with shooting Arkansas soldier; mental exam ordered

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Mental exam set for man charged in soldier’s death

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. — A Muslim convert accused of fatally shooting an Arkansas soldier in retaliation for American military action in the Middle East will undergo a 30-day mental examination after he was charged with attacking a jailer and threatening to kill another, a judge ruled Tuesday.

Abdulhakim Mujahid Muhmmad, 24, faces the death penalty or life in prison without parole if convicted of capital murder in the June 2009 shooting death of Pvt. William Andrew Long. On Monday, prosecutors filed aggravated assault and terroristic threatening charges after Muhammad allegedly stabbed one sheriff’s deputy and threatened to kill another.

Pulaski County Circuit Judge Herb Wright ordered the mental exam Tuesday for Muhammad, who was born Carlos Bledsoe. The judge said he wanted to ensure that Muhammad had his “eyes open with clear understanding” of the charges against him.

Muhammad’s attorney, Claiborne Ferguson, has admitted his client has been difficult. Muhammad has made repeated phone calls and written letters to members of the media, admitting to the shooting and saying it was justified.

Muhammad had been set for trial for June 7, but a spat over who should pay for his defense caused Wright to delay the proceedings.

Ferguson had requested state funding from the Arkansas Public Defender Commission, and Wright approved it. But the commission appealed to the Arkansas Supreme Court, saying it shouldn’t have to pay for Muhammad’s defense because Ferguson was hired by the family, not appointed by the commission. The Supreme Court will hear that appeal May 6.

“Even if they came back very quickly … it would give us an insufficient amount of time to use those resources,” Ferguson said Tuesday.

Prosecutor John Johnson agreed that the funding dispute made it “problematic” for the case to go to trial as scheduled. Wright set a July 7 court date in regards to Muhammad’s mental evaluation but did not schedule a new trial date.

“I want to make sure that when we try this, we only have to try it one time,” the judge said.

Muhammad was escorted to Tuesday’s hearing by two officers and wore a protective vest, handcuffs and leg shackles. Although on previous court appearances he’d been outspoken — one time telling reporters “Death to Obama, peace to Osama” — he said nothing Tuesday when he was brought into the courtroom.

Muhammad was arrested about eight miles from the Army-Navy recruiting center shortly after the shootings last June. 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.

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