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Naveed Afzel Haq forced his way into the Jewish Federation of Greater Seattle Building on July 28, 2006 and shot six people, killing fundraising campaign director Pam Waechter, a 58-year old mother of two.

Seattle Slaying
Insanity defense circumvents justice.

-- Bruce S. Ticker

Had he lived to stand trial, Adolf Hitler could have argued an insanity defense for murdering six million Jews, among other crimes. His early-life experiences - poverty in Vienna, military service during World War I and a prison term - could have warped his mental state and shaped his attitude that nothing is wrong with killing Jews.

Rashid Baz unsuccessfully employed the insanity defense in New York City in 1994, and 14 years later and 3,000 miles away Naveed Haq had enough luck with the ploy to win a mistrial. Their attorneys claimed that since they could not distinguish right from wrong then each was legally insane when Baz murdered a 16-year-old rabbinical student and Haq shot to death a Jewish organizational executive. The lawyers argued that they should each have been found not guilty by reason of insanity which amounted to Hitler’s belief that nothing is wrong with killing Jews.

Pam Waechter became, at least, the ninth American Jew to be murdered in the United States because they were Jews. Perhaps some Jews may not think of her as the ninth known victim because she converted to Judaism, but Haq made no such distinction when he entered the Jewish Federation of Greater Seattle building on July 28, 2006, and killed her because of his anger against Jews.

American Jews have now moved to a new level of danger. With the line of reasoning that saved Haq so far, the insanity defense could have protected the Georgians who lynched Leo Frank in 1915; the Ku Klux Klan members who slaughtered civil rights workers Michael Schwerner, Andrew Goodman and James Chaney in 1964; the hate-mongers who machine-gunned Denver radio host Alan Berg in 1984; the killer of Yankel Rosenbaum in Brooklyn’s Crown Heights neighborhood in 1991; and Egyptian-born Hesham Hadayet, who shot to death El Al ticket agent Victoria Hen, 25, and Yaakov Aminov, 46, at Los Angeles International Airport on July 4, 2002.

James Chaney was black, which of course reminds us that a murderer could get away with killing any minority group member because they believe it is not wrong to kill an African American, an Asian, a Mexican and so on.

Lebanese-born Rashid Baz murdered Ari Halberstam, 16, and critically wounded another Jewish teen-ager in a school vehicle on March 1, 1994, on the Brooklyn Bridge. He exercised his right to claim insanity, but the following December the jury compelled him to take responsibility for his acts by convicting him for the attack.

Naveed Haq, 32, lucked out on June 4 when Superior Court Judge Paris Kallas declared a mistrial after a jury deadlocked over 14 of 15 charges against Haq.

Haq did not dispute charges that he shot Ms. Waechter to death and seriously wounded five other women inside the Federation building on July 28, 2006. Haq would have gotten away with murdering a Jew had the entire jury agreed with his attorney’s arguments. As expected, the prosecution has already moved for a retrial, which could be held this September.

Understand that this guy 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 was hardly the result of a spontaneous explosion of outrage. Media reports in The Seattle Times and Jewish Telegraphic Agency’s coverage describe a methodical progression of events which led to the slayings.

The insanity defense’s tradition for controversy persisted when Federation CEO Richard Fruchter said, “We are extremely disappointed in this hung jury. He made anti-Israel and anti-Semitic statements, but somehow, this was not enough.”

I developed strong doubts about the insanity defense after covering criminal trials on and off for a few daily newspapers. 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 may not have believed he was wrong to harm these people.

A defendant’s state of mind should certainly 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, or who commits a criminal act. He shot those six women, no question about it.

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 was not wrong to kill Jews. Hitler could have exploited this argument.

Haq had two weeks and 227 miles to think about whether it was right or wrong to shoot Jews. 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 in shooting these women because they were Jews or worked at a Jewish facility. If such a belief helps him attain an acquittal, then Jews as well as all minority members are imperiled.

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