- The Washington Times - Wednesday, May 15, 2002

A former Gallaudet University student accused in the slayings of two classmates testified yesterday that images in his mind compelled him to kill.
Jose Mesa Jr., 22, is charged in the beating death of Eric Plunkett in September 2000 and the fatal stabbing of Benjamin Varner five months later in their dorm rooms. All three were freshmen at Gallaudet, the nation's premiere university for the deaf and hard of hearing in Northeast.
Mr. Mesa said his mind is visited regularly by a pair of violent "black hands" that don't leave until he follows the crimes they commit.
He said the first time they came to him, he was an adolescent and the images were of the hands strangling a cat. He subsequently hung a cat from the ceiling and beat it with a baseball bat. He said he then also crushed the skulls of several kittens to make the images go away.
Mr. Mesa testified that he was friends with both young men he is charged with killing.
"I couldn't control myself," he said through a sign-language interpreter. "It's the black hands. I tried to stop those black hands, but I couldn't. I felt like they were more powerful than I am."
When Mr. Mesa was arrested more than a year ago, he told police that he killed Mr. Plunkett and Mr. Varner to steal from them. Now, he says that was a misunderstanding. He said he cashed a check he stole from Mr. Varner because he wanted to "give a clue" to police that would help them catch him and stop him from killing again.
During cross-examination, prosecutor Jeb Boasberg ridiculed that claim, asking why he threw out the knife he used to kill Mr. Varner and the clothes he was wearing.
Mr. Boasberg also hammered away at inconsistencies in Mr. Mesa's testimony about how often the black hands appeared and for how long.
Mr. Mesa said he never told anyone about the images because he was embarrassed and didn't want people thinking he was crazy.
"Its very disgusting," said Gallaudet professor Donalda Ammons. "He lies through his teeth. He was coached by his attorney to say those things."
Earlier in the day, Mr. Mesa's father, brother and girlfriend testified about times Mr. Mesa lost control of himself and seemed to "zone out." His girlfriend said he attempted suicide in the months between the two slayings.
Mr. Mesa's cross-examination will continue today.
The defense is then expected to wrap up its case by calling on doctors to testify about Mr. Mesa's mental capacity.

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