ALEXANDRIA, La. – A 26-year-old Pineville man has pleaded guilty to three counts of simple arson for burning U.S. flags last year in Alexandria
The Town Talk reports the defendant, Ahmed Cathy Khaled, told the judge that he shouldn't have listened to the voices in his head brought on by not taking medication for schizophrenia.
Khaled was sentenced Monday to five years on each felony arson charge, which will run concurrently, by state District Judge Tom Yeager.
Khaled also was on probation from East Baton Rouge Parish on a conviction of aggravated obstruction of a highway when he burned at least three U.S. flags at three Alexandria residences in September.
The four-year sentence for breaking the East Baton Rouge probation also will be served concurrently with the five-year arson sentences handed down by Yeager.
"I was hearing voices, and I was having a crisis in my life, and I shouldn't have listened to those voices" that moved him to burn the flags, Khaled told Yeager.
Khaled said he has been diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia.
"I have a problem," he said.
"You need to take your meds, son," Yeager told him.
Khaled was facing a maximum 10-year sentence on each arson charge if he'd been convicted at trial.
He seemed confused when told of his choices: go to trial this week and risk decades in jail and being labeled a repeat offender, which could bring even more years to a sentence; or plead guilty Monday and spend a maximum of five years in jail.
After conferring on the choices with his court-appointed attorney, Darrell Hickman, Khaled sat off to the side of the courtroom and cried silently before he pleaded.
Prosecutor Mike Shannon said Khaled was charged with simple arson, a felony, instead of flag burning because of First Amendment arguments allowing the act as free speech. Shannon said Khaled didn't burn flags he bought, but stole and burned the property of others.
Khaled was originally charged by Alexandria Police with flag desecration and hate crime as well as arson, criminal mischief and attempted simple arson.
A Town Talk news article in September featured 79-year-old Charles "Chuck" Mayeux of Charles Park in Alexandria.
The U.S. Marine Corps veteran said Alexandria police told him Khaled pulled down Mayeux's 3-foot by 5-foot American flag from a 14-foot flag pole, doused the flag with gasoline, lit it, then ran it back up the pole as it burned.
Mayeux said he was inside his Charles Park home during the burning but didn't hear Khaled.