LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) — The prosecutor walked silently in front of the jury, holding a portrait of a soldier killed outside an Arkansas recruiting center in 2009. Then he spoke: “William Andrew Long.”
Carrying a photo of another soldier, prosecutor Larry Jegley did the same.
Mr. Jegley gave his opening statement Wednesday in the trial of Abdulhakim Muhammad, who has told the Associated Press and the judge overseeing his case that he shot the soldiers to avenge U.S. wars in the Middle East. Mr. Muhammad, 26, could face the death penalty if convicted of capital murder in Long’s death.
His lawyers already have told jurors he shot the soldiers, but they say he mentally ill. Prosecutors and the defendant say he’s not.
Long’s father, Daris, fixed his gaze on Mr. Jegley as the prosecutor detailed the attack on a warm spring morning in a west Little Rock shopping center. Mr. Muhammad’s father, Melvin Bledsoe of Memphis, Tenn., sat in the row behind Mr. Long.
Mr. Muhammad looked up at the prosecutor and the jury and then lowered his head.
He has claimed ties to al Qaeda and had hoped for a high-profile federal or military trial. But local prosecutors took the case in the belief they have a better chance of winning an execution, which rarely is carried out in federal cases. Prosecutors even rejected a plea bargain, since doing so would take the death penalty off the table.
Twelve jurors, plus two alternates, are hearing evidence in the case before Pulaski County Judge Herbert Wright. On Monday, Judge Wright denied Mr. Muhammad’s request to serve as his own lawyer, curtailing another of the defendant’s attempts to garner more attention.
Mr. Muhammad has been wearing an electrified belt in court, with a uniformed bailiff sitting behind him with a remote-control button like the ones used to buzz in on game shows. Deputies fitted him with the belt after he acted up in a number of hearings before the trial started and was accused of attacking a jailer. Jurors can’t see the belt beneath Mr. Muhammad’s clothing.
A handful of people with no connection to the case arrived early Wednesday to claim a seat. Pamela Davis, 50, a substitute high-school teacher, sat in the front row across the aisle from Mr. Long.
“Curiosity got the best of the cat,” said Ms. Davis, who likes to watch court shows on TV and online.
Mr. Muhammad moved to Arkansas in early 2009 as his father expanded the family’s Memphis-based tour-bus company. He changed his name after he converted to Islam in college.
In 2007, he traveled to Yemen, where Islamic extremists are known to seek sanctuary. He overstayed his visa and was deported back to the U.S. It’s not clear whether he actually has links to terrorist groups or just says he does.