Haq tries to enter guilty plea
Seattle Times staff reporter
The man accused of killing one woman and wounding five others at the Jewish Federation of Greater Seattle surprised everyone in the courtroom, including his own attorney, when he attempted to plead guilty Thursday to nine felonies, including a charge that could result in the death penalty.
But after objections from Naveed Afzal Haq's attorney, who said he was concerned about Haq's mental competency, the judge ordered the arraignment to be continued until Tuesday, and no pleas were entered.
After the charges against him were read aloud in King County Superior Court on Thursday morning, Haq turned and whispered into the ear of defense attorney C. Wesley Richards.
"My client has indicated he would like to enter guilty pleas," Richards told Judge Michael Trickey. "I have concerns about his reasoning."
Richards said Haq's request took him by surprise, and that he's had limited contact with his client. He asked the judge not to allow Haq to enter guilty pleas, "so I can fully discuss with him the consequences ... he has a mental-health history."
Haq, 30, is accused of forcing his way into the downtown Seattle offices of the Jewish federation July 28 and opening fire on employees. Pamela Waechter was killed, and five other women were injured during the rampage. He reportedly spouted anti-Semitic and anti-Israel statements during the shootings, according to charging papers.
Haq is charged with one count of aggravated first-degree murder, five counts of attempted murder, kidnapping, burglary and malicious harassment, the state's hate-crime law.
During the arraignment, the judge and defense and prosecution attorneys expressed uncertainty about the legal implications of a guilty plea at such an early stage in the prosecution, especially to the Count 1, the aggravated-murder charge that could bring the death penalty.
"I think the case law does permit Mr. Haq to do this, but I'm concerned about Count 1," Trickey said.
King County Prosecutor Norm Maleng has 30 days from Thursday to decide whether to seek the death penalty. The only other punishment for aggravated first-degree murder is life in prison without the possibility of release.
Richards said he wasn't ready to request a mental-health evaluation for Haq. During the arraignment Haq, who is being held without bail in King County Jail, answered all of the judge's questions and said he understood the proceedings. An attorney who is representing Haq on a separate case, in which he is accused of exposing himself to a young woman at a Kennewick mall, has said Haq has struggled with bipolar disorder.
John Strait, a Seattle University associate professor of law, said that under state law, Haq is not allowed to enter a guilty plea to aggravated first-degree murder before prosecutors decide whether to seek the death penalty, unless the prosecution agrees.
If prosecutors decide to seek the death penalty and Haq still wants to plead guilty, several things could happen, Strait said: Haq could plead guilty under a deal with the prosecution that would allow him to avoid facing the death penalty; he could plead guilty to aggravated first-degree murder but not agree to face death, thereby requiring a jury to determine whether he will face execution or life imprisonment; or he could plead guilty and ask for the death penalty.
John Junker, a professor of law at the University of Washington, said a guilty plea entered too early could put the prosecution on shaky legal ground later because Haq's mental competency has not been established.
Dan Donohoe, spokesman for the King County Prosecutor's Office, said after the hearing that his office would have no further comment on the legal issues in the case until Tuesday.
Bill Waechter, the slain woman's ex-husband, said he didn't care if Haq tried to plead guilty.
"This is something he planned, and this is just part of his script," Waechter said, speaking from Miami on Thursday. "I can't forgive him in any way."
Robin Boehler, chairwoman of the Jewish Federation of Greater Seattle, said she was surprised by Haq's attempted plea. "I think it's significant he was willing to admit in court he committed these crimes," she said.
Boehler, who was in court Thursday morning, said there will be a representative of the Jewish community at each of Haq's court appearances.
Natalie Singer: 206-464-2704 or firstname.lastname@example.org
Seattle Times staff reporter Jennifer Sullivan and news researcher Gene Balk and The Associated Press contributed to this report.
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