LEESBURG, Va. – A former Marine accused of taking potshots at the Pentagon and other military targets with a handgun said his client doesn't harbor any kind of grievance against the Corps, his lawyer said Wednesday.
"I don't believe this was based on any grievance against the Marines," defense attorney Robert May said, referring to his client, Yonathan Melaku, 22, of Alexandria. "As far as I know he was happy with his Marine Corps service."
Melaku is charged in U.S. District Court in Alexandria with a series of overnight shootings beginning in October that had targets including the Pentagon and the National Museum of the Marine Corps in Quantico. He was arrested last month after police spotted him in Arlington National Cemetery after dark, acting suspiciously. His arrest that day prompted a security scare that resulted in closures of many of the highways leading to the Pentagon during the morning rush hour.
After the arrest, investigators said they linked Melaku to the series of shootings that had occurred in October and November of last year, which alarmed northern Virginia authorities at the time. During the monthslong search for a suspect in those shootings, police said they believed the shooter might be someone with ties to the military who had some sort of grievance.
Since Melaku's arrest, authorities have not commented on a motive.
On Wednesday, Melaku appeared at a pretrial hearing in Leesburg on unrelated state charges for larceny connected to a series of car break-ins. Prosecutors dropped four of the six larceny charges against Melaku, and in exchange Melaku waived his right to a preliminary hearing on the remaining two charges. Those two felony counts will be sent to a grand jury, which is expected to issue an indictment when it meets Aug. 8. Melaku may enter into a plea bargain on those charges at that time, his lawyer said.
Melaku said little during Wednesday's brief hearing, waving to his parents as he was led out of court in a red striped jail jumpsuit. His parents declined comment.
He is to remain in custody at the Loudoun County jail.
May spoke briefly to reporters following Wednesday's hearing. He said he briefly represented Melaku on the federal charges and consulted with him about them, but that he is no longer retained on the federal charges. May declined to discuss the federal charges in detail.
Melaku served in the Marines for several years as a lance corporal in the reserves. He was dismissed from the Corps last month because of the larceny charges.