FLINT (WWJ/AP) – A psychiatrist testifying for the defense says a man accused in a series of deadly stabbings in Michigan is a paranoid schizophrenic.
Dr. Norman Miller testified Thursday in the trial of Elias Abuelazam, an Israeli immigrant facing his first murder trial stemming from 14 stabbings in and around Flint two summers ago.
Miller said Abuelazam had “bizarre delusions” that “evil forces directed him to harm others.”
The defense strategy is to show that Abuelazam was insane and not criminally responsible in the death of Arnold Minor in 2010.
Miller said Abuelazam attempted suicide in 1997 by stabbing himself in the neck.
Experts said it’s a very difficult way to beat a case in Michigan, partly because jurors have the option of convicting someone of murder while also finding mental illness was involved. In the end, it still means life in prison without parole.
“Jurors are common-sense people,” said Robert Ashley, a lawyer not involved in the Abuelazam case. “You can convince them with proper testimony that someone might be mentally ill, but you still have a dead body. They want someone to have responsibility for that.”
In addition to Minor’s death, Abuelazam also faces murder or attempted murder charges in eight other attacks in the Flint area and one in Toledo, Ohio. Minor’s blood was found in Abuelazam’s SUV and on his pants and shoes, authorities say. Prosecutors have their own experts lined up if he opens an insanity defense.
“That makes it even more difficult for a jury to make a finding that this guy isn’t responsible when you have Ph.D.s and M.D.s saying he was,” said F. Martin Tieber, a lawyer who specializes in appeals.
There has been little discussion of Abuelazam’s personal life, and no relatives have appeared to watch the trial, 60 miles north of Detroit. He is a permanent U.S. resident from Israel who has lived in Florida and Virginia. He spent just a few months in Flint, moving into a house owned by an uncle, Tony Sahwany.
Sahwany told jurors it didn’t “strike his mind” that Abuelazam was violent. Authorities captured him in Atlanta in August 2010 before the final leg of a trip to Israel.
Prosecutors have not disclosed a motive for the stabbings and are not required to offer one to the jury.
“You can be psychotic and still appear normal and perform a variety of functions. One does not exclude the other,” said Dr. Emanuel Tanay of Ann Arbor, a retired forensic psychiatrist.
In 2010, he testified for Harlan Drake, a truck driver who admitted killing two people, including an abortion opponent who was shot while protesting outside a high school in Owosso, Mich. Tanay said Drake’s poor mental condition was related to a crash that killed two Iowa teens in 2004. The jury, however, said he was criminally responsible for the shootings.
“Jurors can be very skeptical,” said Ashley, who was Drake’s attorney. “In my case, two people died, and they’re going to say someone’s not responsible when he had a gun and pulled the trigger? … It’s hard for jurors to find that.”
Abuelazam was arrested in August 2010 in Atlanta while trying to flee to Israel.
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