The District Attorney's Office will seek the death penalty against Kori Ali Muhammad, who confessed to killing four people in central Fresno, fueled by his hatred for white people.
Fresno defense lawyer Richard Beshwate Jr., who is defending Muhammad, was told of the prosecution's decision in a letter on Tuesday. He said he had met with the office's top administrators a couple of weeks ago in hopes of sparing Muhammad from a possible death sentence.
Beshwate declined to identify who he met with. He said he told the group about Muhammad's documented history of mental illness, but "they felt compelled to seek death."
Assistant District Attorney Steve Wright said it was District Attorney Lisa Smittcamp's decision to seek the death penalty. He said Smittcamp made the decision after listening carefully to the concerns of Beshwate and co-counsel Antonio Alvarez.
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"It's not a decision we took lightly," Wright said.
Muhammad, who grew up in Fresno and Sacramento, is accused in Fresno Superior Court of murdering Mark Gassett, David Jackson and Zackary Randalls on April 18 near downtown Fresno.
He also faces attempted murder charges for allegedly shooting at Stephen Walter, Michael Flores and Mark Greer during the spree. In addition, he is charged with the murder of Motel 6 security guard Carl Allen Williams III, who was shot while working on April 13, and the attempted murder of security guard Oscar Menjivar, who witnessed Williams' killing.
Wright said the prosecution can seek the death penalty because Muhammad faces two special circumstance allegations – that he committed a multiple murder and that the killings were based on race.
Muhammad, 39, will be arraigned on the charges on Wednesday.
According to Beshwate, Muhammad has a long documented history of schizophrenia, delusions and hearing voices. Two court-appointed doctors have already found him incompetent to stand trial. A third doctor, hired by the prosecution, said he is competent to stand trial.
In a ruling in January, Judge Jonathan Conklin ruled that Muhammad is competent to stand trial. A month later, Conklin ordered Muhammad to stand trial after hearing testimony from police detectives about his confession to the deadly rampage.
But a key piece of evidence also was revealed during the hearing – Fresno police Detective Miguel Alvarez testified that he spoke with Muhammad about his mental illness during his confession. He testified that Muhammad told him he tried for six months to get Seroquel, anti-psychotic medication used to treat schizophrenia and bipolar disorder and to decrease hallucinations, from the Fresno County Department of Behavior Science Health but couldn't obtain it.
Seeking the death penalty is rare. Marcus Wesson was sentenced to death in Fresno Superior Court in 2005 after being convicted of orchestrating the 2004 killings of nine of his children. The last Fresno County defendant to receive the death penalty was Eddie Ricky Nealy, who was convicted of the 1985 rape and killing of Fresno teen Jody Lynn Wolf and sentenced to death in December 2015.
Wesson, 71, and Nealy, 61, remain on death row at San Quentin Prison.