Trial begins for driver in three-county hit-and-run rampage
Posted February 22, 2010 1:49 p.m. EST
Updated February 22, 2010 6:47 p.m. EST
FAYETTEVILLE, N.C. — The man charged in a 2004 hit-and-run spree was suffering from "untreated schizophrenia" at the time of the crimes, defense attorneys said on Monday.
Abdullah El-Amin Shareef, 31, of Raeford, is charged with murder and four counts of attempted murder in the case. Prosecutors are seeking the death penalty against him.
Shareef has undergone mental health treatment since his arrest, and entered an insanity plea in 2008.
During opening statements on Monday, defense attorney Carl Ivarsson said his client suffers from paranoid schizophrenia. Toward the end of 2003, Ivarsson said his client's behavior became "stranger and stranger."
Assistant District Attorney Cal Colyer said Shareef knew what he was doing when he "went on a murderous rampage" on the morning of April 14, 2004. Authorities said he stole a city-owned van in Fayetteville and headed north. He hit and injured three men in Fayetteville, then ran over Lonel Bass in Linden, killing him, authorities said.
Shareef abandoned the van, took Bass' pickup truck and continued north, authorities said, running down another man in Harnett County before crashing the truck in Fuquay-Varina, where he was arrested.
"The defendant literally mowed down people in this community who were minding their own business," Colyer said in his opening statement.
Shareef made a series of bad decisions, “but during those bad decisions, he was aware of what he was doing," Colyer said.
The first person Shareef is accused of hitting in the incident is 71-year-old David McCaskill, who testified on Monday that he was out walking his two dogs when a van hit him.
"I got the dogs out of the way, but I couldn't quite make it," McCaskill said. "He knocked me down and apparently my feet went in the air and my right foot came back down in the road and he ran over it with the back tire."
After the van stopped, he said the driver of the van attacked him with a pencil. "I said, 'Why are you trying to kill me?'" he said.
McCaskill was stabbed in the head. "I started bleeding. He stabbed me, trying to get my eye," he said.
During the attack, the man said nothing and left when a neighbor walked outside, McCaskill said.
Ivarsson told jurors that a doctor will testify that Shareef "was one of the most psychotic people that he had ever seen."
Last month, Superior Court Judge E. Lynn Johnson ruled that Shareef was competent to stand trial after reading a letter from a state psychiatrist at Central Regional Hospital in Raleigh, where Shareef has been held.
A psychiatrist hired by Shareef's lawyers agreed with the state's findings. Doctors for both sides warned there was a risk Shareef's condition could deteriorate if he did not continue to get the level of care he needed.
Shareef’s trial had been postponed because he was considered unable to understand court proceedings. Court officials say medication has allowed Shareef to become competent to stand trial.
The trial is expected to resume Tuesday morning.