Man pleads guilty, gets life, for shooting two soldiers

Reuters News
Posted: Jul 25, 2011 6:33 PM
Man pleads guilty, gets life, for shooting two soldiers

By Suzi Parker

LITTLE ROCK, Arkansas (Reuters) - A man who admitted to killing one soldier and wounding another at an Army recruiting office pleaded guilty to the crimes on Monday and was sentenced to life in prison without parole.

Abdulhakim Muhammad, charged with capital murder for the deadly 2009 shooting, entered his plea during his trial in order to avoid the death penalty, officials told Reuters.

The families of the two soldiers agreed to his plea, officials said.

"These families showed a lot of mercy and went through a lot of agony that this would be the right thing," Pulaski County Prosecuting Attorney Larry Jegley told Reuters.

Muhammad was charged with murder in the shooting death of Private William Long, and faced attempted capital murder charges for wounding Private Quinton Ezeagwula.

Pulaski County Judge Herbert Wright sentenced Muhammad on Monday to life in prison without the possibility of parole for Long's shooting.

He received another 11 life sentences for the remaining charges against him, including numerous counts of unlawful discharge of a firearm, plus another 180 years.

He waived his right to an appeal as part of the deal, officials said.

"He will never get out," Jegley said.

In 2009, Muhammad drove to a military recruiting station where Long, 23, and Ezeagwula, then 18, were outside smoking cigarettes. The pair had recently completed basic training. Muhammad fired numerous shots, killing Long and wounding Ezeagwula.

Muhammad claimed ties to Al-Qaeda but this was never proven. During college, he changed his name from Carlos Bledsoe after converting to Islam.

He traveled to Yemen in 2007, according to authorities. He overstayed his visa and was deported.

When authorities stopped Muhammad after the shootings, he confessed and said he would have shot more soldiers, officials have said. He later confessed to the shootings in phone calls to the Associated Press.

On Friday, the trial abruptly went into recess as the jury heard from psychological experts. More such testimony was expected this week.

But that changed Monday morning.

"Defense attorneys came this morning with a signed plea statement by the defendant offering to plead guilty to the maximum on everything," Jegley said.

Jegley approached the Long and Ezeagwula families with the offer. He said they were given lunch in a closed room and left to discuss it among themselves.

"They would show the mercy to Mr. Muhammad that he didn't show to their family and kids," Jegley said. "By him coming to them waving a white flag and asking for mercy, they were restored some control over this case. It was up to them in the end to decide. We were ready to keep this going."

Jegley said the families, including the defendant's family, were seen embracing after the trial.

(Editing by Karen Brooks and Jerry Norton)