Abdullah motive unstated at closing

After Ramadan Abdullah fatally shot Fresno County sheriff's deputy Erik Telen in a home near Dunlap, investigators spent seven days processing the crime scene. The 26-year-old schizophrenic suspect was arrested and interviewed endlessly by almost a dozen mental health experts. And for 61/2 years, prosecutors steadily built their case against Abdullah.

But despite the tremendous amount of effort that went into uncovering and documenting every detail about Abdullah and the shooting, one question remains unanswered: What was Abdullah's motive?

"That might be a missing piece of the puzzle," prosecutor Dennis Peterson told jurors Thursday during his closing arguments in Abdullah's trial.

During the four-week trial in Fresno County Superior Court, Peterson has never said why he believes Abdullah loaded a 12-gauge shotgun with buckshot and fired at Telen as he turned a corner into a living room.

As the guilt phase of the trial draws to a close, however, that issue may become a critical question for jurors, who will begin deliberations Monday.

There is no requirement in the law that says a defendant must have a known motive to be convicted of a crime. But defense attorneys have based much of their case on the hope that jurors will believe their explanation for Abdullah's actions: that he suffered from schizophrenia, was delusional and shot Telen out of misguided fear.

"Is one reasonable interpretation that Ramadan Abdullah was delusional at the time of the murder?" defense attorney Pete Jones asked jurors during his closing arguments.

"The total disorganization at the scene shows someone who is not thinking in a rational way. It is the conduct of a frightened, paranoid individual."

Peterson, however, suggested that Abdullah had a true motive that remains undiscovered.

"Maybe the motive is a private one -- one that has never been disclosed," he said.

In July 2001, Abdullah ran away from his family in New York, joined an Islamic camp in the Tulare County foothills, and then ran off and broke into an unoccupied home near Dunlap on Aug. 21, 2001. When Telen, 26, and his partner, deputy Brent Stalker, entered the home to investigate, Abdullah shot and killed Telen.

Abdullah has pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity. If jurors find Abdullah guilty of murder, they will then hear further testimony from mental health experts to help them determine whether Abdullah was insane at the time of the crime. He faces the death penalty if convicted of first-degree murder and found to be sane.

Peterson told jurors Thursday that it's clear Abdullah methodically thought through his actions and committed premeditated murder against a man he knew was a peace officer.

Peterson noted that after Abdullah broke into the home, he selected a powerful shotgun from a gun cabinet in the house. He then blocked a bedroom window with a mattress, loaded the gun, and positioned himself behind a cast-iron stove before Telen and Stalker entered the house.

Pointing his finger at Abdullah, Peterson said: "Unbeknownst to them, in the room was this man waiting for them with a 12-gauge shotgun."

Jones doesn't dispute that Abdullah killed Telen. However, he asked the jury to find Abdullah guilty of second-degree murder instead of first-degree murder. He said Thursday that Abdullah began showing signs of schizophrenia in late 2000. Abdullah's friends and family testified during the trial that in the summer of 2001, Abdullah said he was Jesus and acted strangely.

"This was a young man in crisis," Jones said.

Abdullah told a jail psychologist shortly after his arrest that when he entered the Dunlap home, he believed that some people from the Islamic camp in Tulare County were chasing him and that the FBI was trying to kill him.

Jones noted that psychologists testified during the trial that it's not uncommon for people experiencing delusions to be able to act in a deliberate manner. It's possible Abdullah thought he was acting in self-defense, Jones said.

But a psychologist who examined Abdullah in 2006 and testified for the prosecution said that it appears that Abdullah was suffering from the early stages of schizophrenia, known as schizophreniform, and that his delusions were not as continuous as they are now.

Even if Abdullah did believe that he was shooting at someone other than a sheriff's deputy, he should still be convicted of first-degree murder, Peterson said.

"Does that make it any less wrong?" he asked.