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Elias Abuelazam dutifully tended the cash register at a party store for $10 an hour. But after punching out, according to police, he was a different, dangerous guy, repeatedly faking car trouble in the wee hours and then stabbing strangers who responded to an appeal for help.
Attorneys in the first murder trial stemming from a 2010 stabbing spree in Flint are poised to offer a defence: Abuelazam, a permanent US resident from Israel, might have been mentally ill and couldn't fully understand what he was doing.
Experts said it's a very difficult way to beat a case in Michigan, partly because jurors have the option of convicting someone of murder while also finding mental illness was involved. In the end, it still means life in prison without parole.
“Jurors are common-sense people,” said Robert Ashley, a lawyer not involved in the Abuelazam case. “You can convince them with proper testimony that someone might be mentally ill, but you still have a dead body. They want someone to have responsibility for that.”
Abuelazam's attorneys won't comment before giving an opening statement to jurors Thursday, two days after prosecutors closed their case. A psychiatrist, Dr Norman Miller, is expected to testify about Abuelazam's mental condition two years ago when 14 people were stabbed in and around Flint. Five died.
Abuelazam, 35, is on trial for one of the deaths, the slaying of Arnold Minor, although he faces murder or attempted murder charges in eight other attacks in the Flint area and one in Toledo, Ohio. Minor's blood was found in Abuelazam's SUV and on his pants and shoes, authorities say. Prosecutors have their own experts lined up if he opens an insanity defence.
Abuelazam has lived in Florida and Virginia. He spent just a few months in Flint, moving into a house owned by an uncle, Tony Sahwany.
Sahwany told jurors it didn't “strike his mind” that Abuelazam was violent. Authorities captured him in Atlanta in August 2010 before the final leg of a trip to Israel.
Prosecutors have not disclosed a motive for the stabbings and are not required to offer one to the jury. - Sapa-AP