Psychiatrist: Suspect in soldier death delusional

AP News
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Posted: Jul 22, 2011 6:33 PM
Psychiatrist: Suspect in soldier death delusional

A forensic psychiatrist told a jury Friday that the man accused of fatally shooting a soldier at a military recruiting station in Arkansas suffers from a mental disorder.

Dr. Shawn Agharkar testified that Abdulhakim Muhammad has delusions _ fixed, false beliefs _ that puff up his perception of himself and make him think he's being persecuted because he's a Muslim.

"He clearly has a different version of reality than the rest of us," Agharkar said.

Muhammad, 26, is charged with capital murder for killing Army Pvt. William Long and attempted capital murder for wounding Pvt. Quinton Ezeagwula in 2009. He confessed to the shootings and could be sentenced to death if convicted.

His defense attorneys argue that he isn't guilty because he has a mental disease or defect. Muhammad and prosecutors say otherwise.

"I have no mental defect or disease, neither past or present," Muhammad wrote in a letter to Circuit Judge Herbert Wright in May. "I was well aware of my actions June 1, 2009."

Muhammad says the shootings were justified because American troops have killed Muslims in the Middle East. He's professed ties to al-Qaida and called his act jihad.

On Friday, Agharkar said there's no proof to back up his claims.

"Saying you're an operative of a major terrorist group is grandiose," Agharkar said.

But a forensic psychiatrist with the Arkansas State Hospital reached a far different conclusion in an evaluation last year.

"He did not have mental disease or defect," Dr. R. Clint Gray wrote in his forensic report. Gray is expected to testify next week when the trial resumes.

Prosecutors rested their case Thursday after playing video of Muhammad confessing to the shootings. Proceedings ended abruptly Friday afternoon as prosecutors tried to suggest that Agharkar benefits financially from finding mental problems in the people he evaluates.

He's paid $350 per hour and he said he's logged between 100 and 120 hours on Muhammad's case. The state foots that bill.

"I'm paid for my time, not my testimony," Agharkar said.

Muhammad, who was born Carlos Bledsoe in Memphis, Tenn., changed his name after he converted to Islam in college. He later traveled to Yemen in 2007 and was deported back to the U.S. after he overstayed his visa.

In court on Friday, Agharkar looked at the jury _ not Muhammad _ as he said people with mental problems don't often think there's anything wrong with them.

"Denial of mental illness is very common," Agharkar said.

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Jeannie Nuss can be reached at http://twitter.com/jeannienuss