FLINT, Mich. (AP) - A man suspected of fatally stabbing five men and wounding nine others in and around a Michigan city two summers ago was convicted Tuesday of first-degree murder in the first case to go to trial.
Jurors rejected the insanity defense put forth for Elias Abuelazam, finding him guilty of stabbing 49-year-old Arnold Minor in August 2010 and leaving him to bleed to death after midnight on a Flint street. He faces life in prison without parole.
The stabbings terrorized the working-class city that summer and befuddled police. Investigators say Abuelazam chose victims at random, and would approach them at night asking for directions or for help with his Chevy Blazer before stabbing them.
Minor's stabbing and the others were "planned, focused, done with care," Genesee County Prosecutor David Leyton told jurors earlier Tuesday.
The prosecutor highlighted the testimony of experts who said Abuelazam was not mentally ill at the time. It took jurors about two hours of deliberating to agree.
Authorities believe Minor, a handyman who played guitar, was the last of Abuelazam's Flint-area victims. He hasn't been charged in every case, but Abuelazam is charged with murder in two other attacks and with attempted murder in seven more, including one in Toledo, Ohio. He is suspected but not charged in attacks in Leesburg, Va., where he once lived.
During the eight-day trial, Minor's family members held a box of his ashes while they listened to prosecutors lay out a strong case against Abuelazam. Minor's blood was found in Abuelazam's SUV and on his clothing, and several stabbing survivors took the stand and identified Abuelazam as their attacker.
"It's been 658 days - I've been counting," Minor's sister, Stephanie Ward, said after the verdict. "He's going where he needs to be. He's not crazy."
Abuelazam's attorneys pursued an insanity defense, calling a psychiatrist who testified that he was paranoid schizophrenic and unable to resist "evil forces" - violent delusions - when he stabbed Minor and others.
Prosecutors responded by calling three other mental health experts, who said they interviewed Abuelazam and determined he wasn't mentally ill. They pointed to the planning that went into the attacks, which happened in the wee hours of the morning with no witnesses around, and said he showed an unusual lack of empathy for the victims, even months later.
Abuelazam didn't testify, but he acknowledged his role in Minor's death and other stabbings during jail interviews with mental health experts. Jurors were told to use the confessions only for the purpose of deciding whether mental illness played a role.
Defense attorney Ed Zeineh re-emphasized mental illness during his closing argument, telling jurors that Abuelazam showed "psychotic behavior" years ago when he stabbed himself in the neck in 1997 and stabbed a friend in Israel in 2009.
"He would see things, he would hear things," Zeineh said. "Black clouds, voices in his head. These were consistent. He believed there were evil spirits taking over his body, possessing him."
Later, while leaving court, Zeineh said Abuelazam was "sick."
"I'll live the rest of my career knowing the mentally ill truly go to prison," he said.
Abuelazam, a native of Ramla, Israel, has spent half his life in the United States but had lived in Flint for only a few months. He was living next to his uncle in the city, 60 miles north of Detroit, and was running a liquor store on the afternoon shift for $10 an hour.
By late July 2010, after at least a dozen people had been stabbed - some fatally - police determined they likely had a serial killer on the loose in the Flint area.
A few weeks later, Abuelazam was captured at the Atlanta airport while trying to flee to Israel. Police seized his luggage and SUV and said they found victims' blood.