NEW YORK – Prosecutors are casting doubt on a college student's claim that he was suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder when arrested in what authorities call a hate-filled attack on a Muslim taxi driver.
Michael Enright's lawyer has said the film student was deeply disturbed by what he saw while shooting a documentary about the war in Afghanistan, where he was briefly embedded with combat troops. The lawyer, Lawrence Fisher, reiterated Wednesday that he plans to base Enright's defense on post-traumatic stress, as well as alcoholism.
But Manhattan prosecutors say in a court document that there's a "strong possibility" Enright doesn't actually suffer from any serious psychiatric condition.
"Nothing in (Enright's) own account of his activities while in Afghanistan indicates that he witnessed or participated in any combat or otherwise traumatizing experience," Manhattan assistant district attorney James Zaleta wrote in the papers, filed Tuesday. When arrested in August, Enright was carrying notebooks describing his Afghanistan experiences — as well as an empty bottle of scotch, authorities said.
The military has declined to say specifically what Enright might have seen during his sojourn with troops in April. But the Pentagon has said that when applying to embed, he showed no signs that he might have trouble coping with the experience.
Fisher told a court Wednesday that the 21-year-old student's "condition is what it is." He declined to answer questions after the hearing, where a judge set a $500,000 bail for Enright. He'd previously been held without bail. It wasn't clear whether his family would be able to free him.
Enright, a would-be senior at the School of Visual Arts, slashed cab driver Ahmed Sharif in the neck with a folding knife Aug. 24 after asking whether he was Muslim, greeting him in Arabic and then telling him to "consider this a checkpoint" and vowing to kill him, authorities said. Sharif, who is from Bangladesh, survived.
Enright later declared to police that he was "a patriot," prosecutors said. He had initially told officers he'd tried to defend himself because Sharif was trying to rob him — a suspicion-deflecting tactic that shows he had some presence of mind, prosecutors say.
"(Enright), with premeditation and deliberation, sliced the throat of an innocent stranger because of that stranger's religious identity," Zaleta wrote.
Enright's arrest stunned many who knew him as a student whose background included volunteering with an interfaith group. His lawyer said in court papers this week that the alleged attack is "in no way, shape or form hate-related based upon religion."
"This appears to be an alleged random act," Fisher wrote, calling Enright's alleged statements "alcohol-induced or the product of temporary insanity."
Enright has pleaded not guilty to attempted murder and assault, both charged as hate crimes. If convicted, he could face up to 25 years in prison.
If his family can post his bail, he will have to wear an electronic monitoring bracelet and comply with an 8 p.m. curfew. He lives in Brewster, N.Y., about 60 miles north of Manhattan.