Crime

Accused Fresno rampage killer is competent to stand trial, judge rules

Accused Fresno rampage killer Kori Ali Muhammad, who has a documented history of schizophrenia and believes he is 66 trillion years old, can control the weather, and that UFOs are real, is competent to stand trial in connection with a crime spree that left four people dead last April, a Superior Court judge ruled on Monday.

In making his ruling, Judge Jonathan Conklin found that Muhammad, 39, of Fresno, understands the criminal proceedings in Fresno County Superior Court and is able to assist his attorney, Richard Beshwate Jr., in building a defense to the charges.

The ruling came as a surprise to Beshwate, who argued Monday that two court-appointed doctors had found Muhammad legally incompetent to stand trial because he is schizophrenic and suffers from delusions or psychosis. A doctor hired by the prosecution found Muhammad competent to stand trial.

Conklin didn’t say what swayed him to find Muhammad competent, but prosecutor Brian Hutchins argued that Muhammad was able to control or manage his mental illness, and that his delusional views are part of his religious beliefs associated with the Nation of Islam.

Hutchins said correctional officers testified during Muhammad’s two-week competency hearing that he was calm and polite in Fresno County Jail, didn’t talk to himself or make up words, and was able to take care of his personal hygiene.

In addition, Hutchins played recordings of Muhammad’s telephone calls from jail to family and friends. In the recordings, Hutchins said Muhammad was able to carry on conversations.

Hutchins argued that Muhammad was “playing up his symptoms” in order “to manipulate the system.”

In talking with the three doctors, Muhammad was alert, made eye contact, and was able to give them a history of his mental illness, Hutchins told Conklin.

Muhammad didn’t get to hear all of Hutchin’s argument; Conklin kicked him out of the courtroom when he made an outburst, one of several he made during his competency hearing. Conklin allowed Muhammad to return to the courtroom for Beshwate’s arguments after he promised to keep quiet.

After announcing the ruling, Conklin reinstated criminal charges that had been suspended since Muhammad’s arrest last April. Conklin accepted Muhammad’s not-guilty plea to murder and attempted murder charges and scheduled a status hearing on Friday to determine whether both sides can proceed with a preliminary hearing on Feb. 1. The preliminary hearing will determine whether there’s enough evidence to order Muhammad to stand trial.

Before leaving court, Muhammad, who is being held in the Fresno County Jail without bail, shouted his typical mantra that black people need reparations. He also said to watch out for natural disasters.

Outside court, Beshwate said he probably won’t appeal the judge’s ruling.

Down the road lies a bigger question: will the District Attorney’ Office seek the death penalty? Hutchins declined to comment, other than to say he was pleased with Conklin’s ruling.

Typically, the prosecution announces whether it will seek the death penalty after the preliminary hearing, and after the defense, in an informal setting, gives its pitch to District Attorney Lisa Smittcamp as to why Muhammad’s life should be spared.

Still be mulled over is whether Muhammad will enter a plea of not guilty by reason of insanity.

A criminal complaint charges Muhammad with murdering three men – Mark Gassett, David Jackson and Zackary Randalls – 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 April 13.

At the time, Fresno police Chief Jerry Dyer said Muhammad confessed to the shooting rampage and to Williams’ murder. Dyer said Muhammad told police he decided to “kill as many people as he could” once he learned authorities were seeking him for Williams’ murder. Dyer also said Muhammad told detectives that he targeted the victims because they were white.

In a telephone interview from jail after his arrest, Muhammad told The Bee that went on his deadly rampage to draw attention to the plight of black women and children who have been kidnapped, raped, and killed by white people.

In the rambling, hour-long interview, Muhammad talked about voodoo, his mental illness, world destruction and the election of President Donald Trump. He showed no remorse for the victims and no fear of a possible death penalty. “They tell black people all the time to get over it. So I say get over it. There will be no pity party.”

Pablo Lopez: 559-441-6434, @beecourts

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