Defense attorneys for Yonathan Melaku—who pleaded guilty last year to firing shots at five military buildings in the metropolitan area, including a recruiting substation in Chantilly—say new evidence has emerged that their client is mentally ill and the court should review his plea agreement.
Melaku, 25, of Alexandria, suffers from severe Schizophrenia and experienced delusions and hallucinations at the time of his offenses, according to a written motion filed in U.S. District Court in Alexandria on Wednesday by defense attorneys Geoffrey Gitner, William Martin and Kerry Verdi.
They wrote that he should be re-apprised of his rights, but they were not trying to withdraw the plea. The plea agreement calls for 25 years. If prosecuted to the fullest extent and convicted, Melaku would face a minimum of 85 years in prison.
Authorities connected Melaku to five shootings throughout Northern Virginia from October to November 2010. The first shooting occurred at the U.S. Marine Corps Heritage Museum in Triangle, followed by the Pentagon, a recruiting substation in Chantilly and the National Museum in Triangle. The last shooting occurred at a Coast Guard recruiting center in Woodbridge. No one was ever injured.
According to the motion, Melaku told his psychiatrist that he saw an 'angel' after the first shooting, and among other delusions, believed the shootings would reunite him with a woman before the end of the world in 2012.
The new lawyers said that Melaku's first counsel had never asked about his mental state or conducted "even the most superficial of inquiries." They argued that Melaku was not aware he had the right to plead guilty by reason of insanity, and a previous attorney had told the court he was sane.
Officers with the National Park Service , with spent 9mm shell casings, chemicals used to make explosives and a notebook that had statements written in Arabic about the Taliban and Osama bin Laden. Five days later, with counsel present, he confessed to multiple shootings.
"Counsel’s missteps had very real consequences for Mr. Melaku," writes the defense team. "His statements provided the government with information that they did not have. The government then had enough to hold a sentence of some 85 years over Mr. Melaku’s head."
After the motion was filed, a federal judge ordered that sentencing for Melaku be moved from Friday morning to the afternoon, so his attorney has time to meet with him.
The prosecution strongly disputed that motion, calling the defense a "Monday morning quarterback."
U.S. Attorney Lynn Haaland argued in her own motion filed Thursday that although Melaku is schizophrenic, he is still competent to stand trial. She wrote that the defense attorneys' statements were filled with "factual inaccuracies and omissions" and some were "just plain wrong."
"The most glaring of these omissions is the defendant’s obvious failure to acknowledge anywhere in his motion that his own retained psychiatric expert, Neil Blumberg, M.D., found...that despite suffering from Schizophrenia, it was Dr. Blumberg’s opinion 'to a reasonable degree of medical certainty' that the defendant is 'able to understand the nature and consequences of the proceedings against him and is able to assist properly in his defense,'" the motion reads.
"In other words, the defendant’s own expert concluded that Mr. Melaku was competent to plead guilty, a finding ignored by the defendant throughout his motion and one that fatally undermines the basis for this motion."