|Page (1) of 1 - 07/20/11||email article||print page|
Holding portrait, prosecutor details soldier's 2009 death outside Arkansas recruiting center
LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) ' The prosecutor walked silently in front of the jury, holding a portrait of a soldier killed outside an Arkansas recruiting center in 2009. Then he spoke: "William Andrew Long."
Carrying a photo of another soldier, prosecutor Larry Jegley did the same.
"A son, a brother, a friend," Jegley said. "Wounded. Scarred in the same incident that took Pvt. Andy Long's life."
Jegley gave his opening statement Wednesday in the trial of Abdulhakim Muhammad, who told The Associated Press and the judge overseeing his case that he shot the soldiers to avenge U.S. wars in the Middle East. Muhammad, 26, could face the death penalty if convicted of capital murder in Long's death.
His lawyers have already told jurors he shot the soldiers, but they say he mentally ill. Prosecutors and the defendant say he's not.
Long's father, Daris, fixed his gaze on Jegley as the prosecutor detailed the attack on a warm spring morning in a west Little Rock shopping center. Muhammad's father, Melvin Bledsoe of Memphis, Tenn., sat in the row behind Daris Long.
"Ten shots were fired. Ten shots from an assault rifle. They were fired by this man, Abdulhakim Muhammad, born Carlos Bledsoe," Jegley said, turning toward Muhammad.
Muhammad looked up at the prosecutor, at the jury and then lowered his head.
He has claimed ties to al-Qaida and hoped for a high-profile federal or military trial. But local prosecutors took the case believing they have a better chance of winning an execution, which is rarely carried out in federal cases. Prosecutors even rejected a plea bargain, since doing so would take the death penalty off the table.
Twelve jurors, plus two alternates, are hearing evidence in the case before Pulaski County Judge Herbert Wright. On Monday, Wright denied Muhammad's request to serve as his own lawyer, curtailing another of the defendant's attempts to garner more attention.
Muhammad has been wearing an electrified belt in court, with a uniformed bailiff sitting behind him with a remote-control button like the ones used to buzz in on game shows. Deputies fitted him with the belt after he acted up in a number of hearings before the trial started and was accused of attacking a jailer. Jurors can't see the belt beneath Muhammad's clothing.
A handful of people with no connection to the case arrived early Wednesday to claim a seat. Pamela Davis, 50, a substitute high school teacher, sat in the front row across the aisle from Long's father.
"Curiosity got the best of the cat," said Davis, who likes to watch court shows on TV and online.
Muhammad moved to Arkansas in early 2009 as his father expanded the family's Memphis-based tour bus company. He changed his name after he converted to Islam in college.
In 2007, he traveled to Yemen, where Islamic extremists are known to seek sanctuary. He overstayed his visa and was deported back to the U.S. It's not clear whether he actually has links to terrorist groups or just says he does.
Jeannie Nuss can be reached at http://twitter.com/jeannienuss