SEATTLE (JTA) – Lawyers on both sides are facing challenges as the trial is about to start for the man accused of shooting up the Jewish federation in Seattle more than a year and a half ago.
As the King County Superior Court prepares for what is likely to be among the most high-profile cases in Seattle history, prosecutors must overcome possibly critical omissions in police procedures and the defense must back up their client’s insanity plea.
Naveed Afzal Haq is accused of forcing his way into the downtown offices of the federation on the afternoon of July 28, 2006 and shooting six women who worked there, killing one.
When opening statements begin April 14, security at the King County Courthouse will be at a maximum and seating at a premium. The trial is expected to last six weeks.
During pretrial hearings March 31 and April 1, Haq watched intently from his seat in a high-security courtroom here while prosecutors played videotape of his precinct interview with detectives on the day of the shooting. On the screen he cried about his family and ranted about Jews.
Ultimately a jury will decide whether Haq, 32, was legally insane when he researched Jewish sites on the Internet, bought weapons and drove more than 200 miles from Pasco to Seattle to commit the crimes.
Attorneys for Haq, a self-described Muslim of Pakistani heritage, have entered a plea of not guilty by reason of insanity. Hag has an extensive history of mental illness and was on medication at the time of the attack.
Judge Paris Kallas ruled April 2 that the defense must prove that Haq was insane at the time of the shootings.
Central to the defense’s case is that the side effects of the drugs Haq was taking for his “schizoaffective disorder” caused him to act out in an uncontrollable and violent rage that day. Haq has since been prescribed different medications, his lawyers told Kallas.
In documents filed by the state, however, prosecutors note that mental health professionals who evaluated Haq three days before the shootings indicated there was no sign that “he was manic or experiencing psychosis.” He recently had been charged with exposing himself at a Kennewick shopping center.
In this trial, Haq faces one count of aggravated first-degree murder with a firearm; five counts of attempted first-degree murder with a firearm; one count of first-degree kidnapping with a firearm; one count of unlawful imprisonment with a firearm; six counts of malicious harassment with a firearm; and six counts of first-degree burglary with a firearm.
The kidnapping charge stems from allegedly forcing the 14-year-old niece of a federation employee into the building at gunpoint to gain entry.
Defense attorneys have objected to the inclusion of the malicious harassment charges, which is Washington’s hate-crime law. They say it was their client’s persistent and severe mental illness that guided his actions and caused him to kill that day, not a targeted hatred for Jews.
Prosecutors allege that Haq spewed anti-Israel and anti-Jewish slurs during the attack while decrying the Iraq war and Israel’s 2006 conflict with Hezbollah in Lebanon. Haq made similar comments on the video shown in the courtroom this week.
According to a court memorandum, Haq told a 911 operator during his shooting rampage, “I’m not upset at the people, I’m upset at your foreign policy. These are Jews. I’m tired of getting pushed around and our people getting pushed around by the situation in the Middle East.”
Several of the victims are on the witness list and scheduled to testify.
During the interview with police taped at the station, Haq said he picked the federation at random after looking it up on the Internet. He said he just wanted to “make a point.”
Kallas must still decide whether to admit these and other statements Haq made to detectives after his arrest that day. He also must rule on whether the officer who first secured Haq at the crime scene properly advised him of his Miranda rights, which include his right to not make statements and to speak to a lawyer.
The videotaped interview with detectives shows Haq making several requests to speak with a lawyer and none being present.
Prosecutors agreed to suppress statements that Haq made to detectives during the interview after his second statement about possibly talking to a lawyer.
Before his untimely death last year, King County Prosecutor Norm Maleng opted against the death penalty in the case in favor of life in prison without parole. Maleng called it “one of the most serious hate crimes that has ever occurred in our community.”
In a statement about the shootings, Maleng wrote in August 2006 that Haq chose the federation because it was a “convenient local symbol representing the nation of Israel and Jewish people throughout the world.”
The federation refurbished and remodeled the two-story building and moved back in March 2007. The narrow stairway leading up to the second floor of offices in which Pam Waechter died has been completely renovated.