- The Washington Times - Wednesday, May 22, 2002

Former Gallaudet University student Joseph Mesa Jr. faces life in prison without parole after a D.C. Superior Court jury yesterday found him guilty of robbing and killing two classmates in their campus dormitory.
After three weeks of testimony, the jury of seven men and five women took just over three hours to find Mesa, 22, guilty of two counts of first-degree murder and 13 other lesser counts, including felony murder, burglary and robbery.
The charges stem from the September 2000 killing of Eric Plunkett of Burnsville, Minn., and the February 2001 killing of Benjamin Varner of San Antonio.
Both men were 19 and fellow students of Mesa at Gallaudet, the nation's only four-year liberal arts institution specializing in educating the deaf and the hearing impaired.
Outside the courtroom, the victims' parents expressed satisfaction with the verdict.
"I think it's the right verdict," said Craig Plunkett, Eric's father. "I think justice is being served." Mr. Plunkett described Mesa as a "heartless, cold-blooded killer."
Diane Varner, Benjamin's mother, said that while she is happy with the guilty verdict, she does not expect it to alleviate the pain she bears every day since losing her son.
"There is little significance in the jury's verdict today," she said, "other than Joseph will never be able to do this again ever."
As the jury foreman ticked off the 15 guilty verdicts, Mesa, a native of Guam, sat silently while a sign-language interpreter translated.
Mesa's attorney, Ferris R. Bond, described him as "composed," but said he was "holding back tears" when the two spoke later in a holding cell. He said he had prepared Mesa for the possibility of the guilty verdicts, but expected that Mesa was "still numb."
Mesa's family was not in the courtroom when the verdict was delivered. Mr. Bond said they had not been notified in time.
Mr. Bond, who argued that Mesa should be found not guilty of the crimes by reason of insanity, said he knew he was facing an "uphill battle." He said he is still convinced that his client is mentally ill.
During the trial, Mesa took the stand and testified about a pair of "black hands" that told him to do evil things. He also said he felt distant from his family while growing up because they did not know sign language.
A defense psychologist testified Mesa was incompetent, but three prosecution experts countered that opinion, one going as far as to say Mesa was faking mental illness.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Jeb Boasberg graphically described the way Mesa premeditated and killed the two men in their dorm rooms.
Mr. Boasberg displayed the chair Mesa used to beat Mr. Plunkett to death and described how Mesa stabbed Mr. Varner 17 times with a paring knife.
He said Mesa robbed both teen-agers, writing a $650 check to himself out of Mr. Varner's bank account the day after the murder and using Mr. Plunkett's credit cards for a lavish spending spree.
The prosecution also showed a videotaped, three-hour confession Mesa gave describing the killings to police shortly after his February 2001 arrest.
Mr. Bond said he plans to appeal the verdict and cited the videotaped confession as grounds. He said Mesa was not made aware of his rights and questioned the use and accuracy of police interpreters.
Mesa will be held pending sentencing July 10.


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