Lawyers Press for ‘Insanity Defense’ in Killing of Christian Woman in Egypt

Attorneys undeterred by psychiatric evaluation saying confessed killer is mentally fit.

Engraved image at Temple of Kom Ombo, Egypt. (Wikipedia)

Engraved image at Temple of Kom Ombo, Egypt. (Wikipedia)

ISTANBUL, Turkey (Morning Star News) – Lawyers for a Muslim accused of stabbing a Coptic woman to death in Egypt are persisting with a claim of innocence by reason of insanity, in spite of a psychiatric evaluation that found he was fit to stand trial.

Confirming fears of human rights activists who said attorneys for Mahmoud Mohamed Ali would use a tactic that has freed other Muslims from punishment for premeditated, religiously motivated murder, the lawyers are challenging results of the evaluation.

They have filed a petition to send Ali for a second round of observations. Twelve days after his arrest in February in connection with the murder of 30-year-old Madline Wagih Demian in Upper Egypt, investigators transferred Ali to a psychiatric facility for examination when his attorneys and family claimed he was mentally ill. After 45 days of observation, however, three state-appointed doctors found he was fit to stand trial.

“We find that the mentioned person does not need to be kept in the hospital any more, as his condition does not require hospitalization as he is well and sound,” the report concludes. “The accused does not suffer from any mental problems.”

Osama Wagdy of Egyptian human rights group Nations Without Borders said residents in Kom Ombo, 48 kilometers (30 miles) north of Aswan, are concerned that the man who confessed to the stabbing will make a mockery of the justice system by being declared not guilty by reason of insanity. The tactic is commonly used in Egypt by those who have violently targeted Christians, Wagdy said.

“They are pretending, because that is how they get out of cases,” said Wagdy. “Nobody thinks he is mentally ill. He went from one place to another knowing what he was doing and told one of the victims, ‘You deserve it.’”

On the evening of Feb. 8, in Kom Ombo, investigators say, Ali went on a violent rampage, attacking three Christians with a knife. His intended victim, a male Coptic pharmacy clerk, fought him off, and Ali fled.

Next Ali stabbed Demian, a Coptic shopkeeper in another Christian-owned pharmacy, police say. He severed an artery in her neck, and she fell to the floor, where she bled to death in less than a minute. Soon after, Ali stabbed high school student Marian Kamal Shafik, 19, police say. Shafik was later treated in a hospital, but escaped with her life and no permanent injuries.

Ali was arrested later that evening, and according to witnesses who were at the police station, he confessed to the attacks and the killing.

Two competing versions of the attacks immediately emerged. Witnesses said that Ali methodically went from business to business where Copts congregate, ignored the Muslims present and specifically targeted Christians. Human rights advocates also noted links between Ali’s family and Islamist groups that have anti-Christian leanings, such as the Muslim Brotherhood. A cousin of Ali, Muhammad Al-Umda, is on trial for acts of terrorism.

Those who support Ali – largely Islamists and members of his family, according to human rights activists – said that Ali was mentally unstable when he committed the attacks because he had just lost his job, and his wife was diagnosed with the same disease that had recently killed his mother.

After the killing, Ayman Wagih Demian, the slain woman’s brother, scoffed at claims that Ali was suffering from mental illness.

“He killed her because she is a Christian,” Demian said. “There was nothing else. He was targeting Christian pharmacies. He went and tried to attack a Christian, and when he failed, he went to the next Christian pharmacy.”

The Regional Council for Mental Health in Cairo, at the Abassiya Mental Health Hospital, evaluated Ali. A panel of three doctors, including the director of the council, found that he was free of any psychological disorders and had no history of mental illness. The report also found that Ali was free of any condition that would have rendered him temporarily insane during the time of the slaying, and that he knows the difference between right and wrong. He was returned to prison on March 25.

Because the insanity tactic has been employed frequently in clear-cut cases of violence against Copts in Egypt, Islamic extremists in the country have come to believe they can attack Christians without fear of punishment, human rights activists said.

Arguably the most well-known and possibly most egregious example was the case of Osama Al-Bohyagi, who in September 2009 attacked 63-year-old Copt Abdu Georgy in Behnay village. According to numerous witnesses, Al-Bohyagi stabbed Georgy five times in the back and four times in the stomach. He then disemboweled him, slit his throat and tried to saw off his head. Al-Bohyagi then rode his motorcycle for 30 minutes until he found another Christian, whom he stabbed twice in the stomach. Al-Bohyagi then drove to a third village, where he stabbed another Copt.

Al-Bohyagi was later caught and confessed to killing one Copt and wounding the others. Despite his confession and ties to Islamist groups, a judge found him not guilty by reason of insanity in 2010.

Along with attempts to plead insanity, Ali’s family has tried to get the Demian family to drop the murder case by bribing them to participate in a “reconciliation meeting,” according to Wagdy. Patterned after traditional tribal councils, the rights of minorities and victims are more often than not completely ignored in such meetings. Agreeing to one would almost guarantee that Ali would be released with little more than a fine.

“The family refused, because they said it wasn’t right to take money for the loss of their daughter,” Wagdy said. “The family totally refused these things.”

The last court hearing took place on May 12. The date of the next hearing date has yet to be released.

Despite all the legal wrangling, Shafik, the third stabbing victim, said justice will eventually be handed out.

“I personally forgive him, but what people care about is justice for Madline, because she lost her life,” she said. “But even if his lawyers get him out of court with no charge, free, he will receive justice from God.”

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