Home > Anti-Semitism, Israel, Pakistan, United States of America > Haq trial shows the pitfalls for society of an insanity defense

Haq trial shows the pitfalls for society of an insanity defense

December 20, 2009 Leave a comment Go to comments

‘Naveed Haq’s intention was to frighten Jews…The jury held that holding extremist views does not make you insane, but it does make you dangerous’— King County (Wash.) Prosecutor Dan Satterberg

By Bruce S. Ticker

PHILADELPHIA — With two trials, Naveed Haq could not snow his second Seattle jury with an insanity defense.

After 2 ½ days of deliberations, a more prudent jury convicted Haq last Tuesday, Dec. 15, of aggravated murder and seven other offenses in the murder of Pamela Waechter and the wounding of five other women inside the Jewish Federation of Greater Seattle on July 28, 2006.

Haq is at least the third thug to employ the insanity defense after killing or assaulting Jews. All three defendants were convicted, but Haq came close to getting away with his crimes when the first jury deadlocked in June 2008 and the judge declared a mistrial. He pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity, which by legal tradition means he could not distinguish between right and wrong. Haq believes there is nothing wrong with killing Jews.

Imagine what Adolf Hitler could have done with the insanity defense had he lived to stand trial. In San Francisco a few years ago, a defendant who assailed Nobel Prize-winning author and Holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel was found guilty in spite of using the insanity defense. In March 1994, Lebanese-born Rashid Baz murdered Ari Halberstam, 16, and critically wounded another Jewish teen-ager in a school vehicle on the Brooklyn bridge. He exercised his right to claim insanity, but a jury compelled him to take responsibility for his acts by convicting him.

The insanity defense is dangerous. True, this legal instrument is more complicated than the right-from-wrong standard, but we have reached the point where a person can be acquitted simply because s/he believes it is justified to murder someone who belongs to a given minority group.

Among Jewish victims alone, the line of reasoning that saved Haq the first time could have protected the Georgians who lynched Leo Frank in 1915; the Ku Klux Klan members who slaughtered three civil rights workers in 1964 (two were Jewish, one was black); and the teen-ager who fatally plunged a knife into Yankel Rosenbaum in Crown Heights in 1991.

Pam Waechter, a campaign director for the Seattle Federation, was at least the ninth Jew to be murdered in the United States because they were Jews. Waechter converted to Judaism when she married years earlier, but Haq made no such distinction when he entered her building and killed her because of his anger against Jews.

In his first trial run with the justice system, so to speak, Haq lucked out when Superior Court Judge Paris Kallas declared a mistrial after a jury deadlocked over 14 of 15 charges against him.

Haq did not dispute charges that he shot Ms. Waechter to death and seriously wounded five other women inside the Federation building; Federation raises and allocates funds for Jewish causes. Haq would have gotten away with murdering a Jew had the entire jury agreed with the attorney’s arguments.

After the second trial, jurors said they were not provided with evidence that Haq was insane and in fact heard taped jailhouse statements from Haq that he regretted none of his acts and was proud to be a martyr, a typical honor for Islamic terrorists. Fortunately, the jury dismissed any possible arguments that Haq saw nothing wrong in killing Jews, but a different jury could have interpreted it differently.

Haq was not mad at the world but specifically at Jews because of their supposed oppression of his Muslim brethren in the Middle East, as he told witnesses. His shooting spree did not result from a spontaneous explosion of outrage. Media reports in The Seattle Times and The Jewish Telegraphic Agency’s coverage describe a methodical progression of events which led to the slayings.

I developed strong doubts about the insanity defense after covering criminal trials on and off for a few daily newspapers. In Lebanon County, Pennsylvania, a mother claimed religious motives for attempting to murder her children, one by one. The prosecutor demonstrated that the defendant committed the crimes in a meticulous manner, yet the jury bought her insanity defense.

It is inherent that anyone who commits a crime must be mentally unstable. A person in their right mind automatically knows that a criminal act is wrong and recognizes there is always a strong chance of getting caught and facing prosecution.

Nor is it convincing that a defendant should be excused for their acts if they cannot distinguish right from wrong or do not understand the nature and quality of their acts. Haq did in fact shoot six women, one fatally, even though he did not believe he was wrong to harm these people.

A defendant’s state of mind should be taken into account during sentencing because such conditions as emotional duress could trigger a person’s criminal acts, but not the process of determining guilt. He shot those six women, no question about it.

In both of his trials, the defense was persuasive in establishing that Haq suffered from serious mental-health problems, which included being on medication and having a history of child abuse; he was a self-proclaimed Muslim of Pakistani ancestry. Even his background fails to meet standards as a mitigating factor in sentencing. Haq’s reasoning should repulse anyone who is specifically concerned with anti-Semitism and generally with bigotry.

Haq singled out Jews. Since when does use of medication or experience with child abuse provoke someone to pick and choose among ethnic and religious groups? As JTA reported, Haq told a 911 operator, “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.”

The Seattle Times reported these additional comments from Haq to the 911 operator: “I want these Jews to get out. I don’t care…just want to make a point…all the media’s being controlled by Jews. I’m sick and tired of it…Patch me into CNN.”

Obviously, he must have drawn on his upbringing and mental-health history to believe it is not wrong to kill Jews. Hitler could have exploited this argument.

The prosecution was methodical in proving, well, how methodically Haq carried out his plans. JTA reported that Haq went on the Internet two weeks before his shooting spree to research Jewish organizations. He got directions to the Federation building from Mapquest. He drove 227 miles from his home in eastern Washington to kill Ms. Waechter and injure her colleagues. Some were Jewish, some were not. Along the way, he test-fired the two handguns he brought with him. To gain entrance into the building, he kidnapped a 14-year-old girl and started firing when he reached the Federation’s second-floor reception area. 

Dayna Klein, who was pregnant at the time, testified that Haq shot her in the arm when she covered her abdomen with her arm to protect her unborn child. The wound left her without use of the arm. Klein coaxed him into talking with 911 operators. Police officers testified that Haq surrendered to police without further incident.

Haq saw nothing wrong with shooting these women because they were Jews or worked at a Jewish facility. Such a belief could still help any defendant attain an acquittal in the future, and that endangers all of us.

Insanity defense could snag justice

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Ticker is a freelance journalist based in Philadelphia.  His may be contacted at  bticker@comcast.net

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