FLINT, Mich. – A man suspected of fatally stabbing five men and wounding nine others in and around the Michigan city of Flint two summers ago was convicted Tuesday of first-degree murder in the first case to go to trial.
Jurors rejected the insanity defense put forth for Elias Abuelazam, finding him guilty of stabbing 49-year-old Arnold Minor in August 2010 and leaving him to bleed to death after midnight on a Flint street. He faces life in prison without parole.
The stabbings terrorized the working-class city that summer and befuddled police. Investigators say Abuelazam chose victims at random, and would approach them at night asking for directions or for help with his Chevy Blazer before stabbing them.
Authorities believe Minor was the last of Abuelazam's Flint-area victims. He hasn't been charged in every case, but Abuelazam is charged with murder in two other attacks and with attempted murder in seven more, including one in Toledo, Ohio. He is suspected but not charged in attacks in Leesburg, Va., where he once lived.
During the eight-day trial, Minor's family members held a box of his ashes while they listened to prosecutors lay out a strong case against Abuelazam. Minor's blood was found in his SUV and on his clothing, and several stabbing survivors took the stand and fingered Abuelazam as their attacker.
His attorneys pursued an insanity defense, which can be more difficult in Michigan than other states because defendants can be deemed to have been mentally ill but still found guilty. They called a psychiatrist, who testified that Abuelazam was paranoid schizophrenic and was unable to resist "evil forces" -- violent delusions -- when he stabbed Minor and others.
Prosecutors responded by calling three other mental health experts, who said they interviewed Abuelazam and determined he wasn't mentally ill. They pointed to the planning that went into the attacks, which happened in the wee hours of the morning with no witnesses around, and said he showed an unusual lack of empathy for the victims, even months later.
Abuelazam didn't testify, but he acknowledged his role in Minor's death and other stabbings during jail interviews with mental health experts. Jurors were told to use the confessions only for the purpose of deciding whether mental illness played a role.
The Ramla, Israel, native has spent half his life in the United States but had lived in Flint for only a few months. He was living next to his uncle in the city, 60 miles north of Detroit, and was running a liquor store on the afternoon shift for $10 an hour.
By late July 2010, after at least a dozen people had been stabbed -- some fatally -- police determined they likely had a serial killer on the loose in the Flint area.
A few weeks later, Abuelazam was captured at the Atlanta airport while trying to flee to Israel. Police seized his luggage and SUV and said they found victims' blood.