Question of sanity at center of trial
Seattle Times staff reporter
In an unusually large initial pool, nearly 400 prospective jurors stuffed a Seattle courtroom to its marble seams Friday, signaling the beginning of what promises to be one of King County's most intense and complex criminal trials in recent years.
It will be at least three more weeks before a jury is empaneled for the trial of Naveed Haq, accused of killing one woman and wounding five others in a shooting rampage at the Jewish Federation of Greater Seattle on July 28, 2006.
But a flurry of court filings in recent weeks outlines some of the major pretrial issues likely to affect the course of the case and highlight the main question jurors will ultimately have to wrestle with: Was Haq legally insane when he burst into the Belltown offices, allegedly spewing anti-Semitic statements? Or did he, despite a long history of mental illness, plan and intend to carry out the attack?
Haq, 32, has pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity to one count of aggravated first-degree murder, five counts of attempted first-degree murder, one count of first-degree kidnapping, one count of unlawful imprisonment, six counts of first-degree burglary and six counts of malicious harassment — the state's hate-crime law.
Former King County Prosecuting Attorney Norm Maleng decided in December 2006 not to seek the death penalty against Haq. If convicted of the murder charge, he faces life in prison without parole.
Attorneys expect the trial to last about six weeks — or longer if they have difficulty finding a jury — an issue Haq's attorneys expressed serious concerns about in a recent trial memorandum.
They argue that frequent mentions of Haq and the case in local and national media, the blogosphere and even two entries in the online encyclopedia Wikipedia present a "formidable challenge" to empaneling an unbiased jury.
"Given the breadth of negative coverage that has plagued Mr. Haq's case, the juror pool is certainly polluted," wrote defense attorneys John Carpenter and C. Wesley Richards in their request for "substantial time" to question the potential jurors in regard to bias.
Prosecutors allege that Haq selected his victims because of his hatred for Jews and his perceptions about his victims' beliefs.
While Haq's defense lawyers argue that the shootings should not be framed as hate crimes — which they call "an inflammatory and erroneous label ... as the crimes here were borne from severe mental illness" — they also argue in their trial memorandum that discrimination against Muslims seriously threatens their client's chance at a fair trial.
Haq, of Pakistani descent, was raised in the Muslim faith, though there have been conflicting reports from those who knew him that he had converted to Christianity.
Attorneys on Friday questioned the potential jurors who came to court — just a portion of the 3,000 who were originally summoned — about possible hardships if they were to serve.
Beginning around March 31, lawyers for both sides will begin the more difficult questions of "voir dire," aimed in part at determining whether those summoned do harbor any bias that could affect them.
The search for an unbiased jury is just one of several major pretrial issues that will play out around the same time as attorneys return to court to begin debating before Superior Court Judge Paris Kallas.
Pretrial motions, which are usually decided by the judge outside the presence of a jury and ahead of the trial, will determine the types of evidence admitted, address which side must bear the burden of proof regarding sanity, and could even guide what types of words or terms — such as "hate crime" and "Muslim" — the jurors will be allowed to hear.
Already, both sides have begun maneuvering:
• Haq's attorneys have motioned to suppress all evidence discovered at his apartment and the statements he made to police after he surrendered, including statements about Israel, Iraq, Lebanon and Jews, Internet research he told police he did the day before the shootings, his medications and his guns.
His attorneys say police violated his legal rights when they continued interrogating him after he requested a lawyer. Prosecutors have responded that all Haq's statements were made voluntarily.
A special hearing will be held to determine if the statements are admissible.
• Defense attorneys have argued in a pretrial memorandum that it should be the state's burden to prove Haq was sane at the time of the shootings. Prosecutors will argue that 100 years of state history dictate that it is the defense's burden to prove insanity; the judge will address the issue during pretrial hearings.
Weeks of testimony
Ultimately, after pretrial issues are decided, jurors will have to sit through weeks of testimony from up to 50 or more victims, police officers, doctors and therapists, family members and experts and then decide whether Haq was insane at the time of the shootings and thereby legally excused.
Both sides agree that Haq has struggled with mental illness, and the defense does not dispute that Haq entered the federation and committed the shootings. A psychiatrist defense witness, however, is expected to testify that Haq was insane at the time and therefore his ability to premeditate and form intent to kill was diminished, according to court filings.
The state's witnesses are expected to testify that, although Haq was being treated for mental illness at the time of the shootings, neither his counselor nor nurse noted any symptoms that indicated psychosis when they saw him three days before he entered the federation offices.
Natalie Singer: 206-464-2704 or email@example.com
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