Vet Who Shot at Pentagon Claims Mental Ills


ALEXANDRIA, Va. - Lawyers for an ex-Marine from Virginia facing 25 years in prison for firing shots at the Pentagon, the Marine Corps museum in Quantico and other buildings say their client is mentally ill.

Yonathan Melaku of Alexandria pleaded guilty earlier this year to a series of overnight shootings at various military buildings in northern Virginia. No one was injured. As part of a plea deal, he agreed to a 25-year sentence.

In court papers Wednesday, Melaku's new lawyers ask for a court-ordered mental examination. They say their own psychiatrist, Neil Blumberg, has concluded Melaku is schizophrenic after reviewing his medical records and interviewing him for five hours at the jail.

The motion does not seek to overturn Melaku's conviction and it is not clear whether any determinations about Melaku's mental health could affect his guilty plea.

When Melaku entered his plea, his lawyer at the time, Gregory English, requested a mental evaluation so that his client could be placed at the federal medical prison in Butner, N.C. But at the time, English took pains to say that any mental health problems that plagued Melaku did not rise to the level that they called his competency into question.

In Wednesday's motion, Melaku's new lawyers, Geoffrey Gitner and Billy Martin, called that assertion "shocking due to the fact that prior counsel failed to ever have Mr. Melaku examined by a psychiatrist or other mental health practitioner."

Blumberg has performed mental evaluations in numerous legal cases, including several high-profile defendants. In 2003, he testified that teenager Lee Boyd Malvo was legally insane at the time of the 2002 D.C. sniper shootings, based on indoctrination he endured from his partner in the murders, John Allen Muhammad. The jury rejected Malvo's insanity defense and sentenced him to life in prison.

Gitner did not respond to a phone call Wednesday afternoon.

Prosecutors have previously said they have no reason to believe Melaku was suffering from any serious mental health issues at the time of the shootings.

Melaku was arrested last year when he was spotted after dark in Arlington National Cemetery with a backpack containing potential explosives material and notations referring to jihad and Osama bin Laden. That arrest set off a security scare in and around the Pentagon.

The evidence against Melaku includes a video that he made in which he is seen firing shots at the National Museum of the Marine Corps as he drives by from Interstate 95, where the museum is easily visible. In the video, Melaku shouts "God is Great!" in Arabic and talks about targeting the museum and "turning it off permanently."

The overnight shootings in October and November of 2010 twice targeted the Marine Corps museum and once each targeted the Pentagon and military recruiting stations in Woodbridge and Chantilly.

Melaku's sentencing is scheduled for July 20.

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