The man accused of shooting six women, one fatally, at Seattle's Jewish Federation offices has indicated he wants to plead guilty, his attorney said last week, but a judge continued his arraignment a week to help the attorney determine whether he is competent to make such a plea.
Naveed Afzal Haq is charged with aggravated first-degree murder in the death of Pamela Waechter, 58, director of the Jewish charity's annual fund-raising campaign, and with five counts of attempted first-degree murder in the attack at the federation's downtown offices on July 28.
Haq, 30, said little at his brief arraignment Thursday, but his court-appointed attorney, C. Wesley Richards, told King County Superior Court Judge Michael Trickey that Haq "is indicating that it is his desire to enter guilty pleas."
Richards said he was not aware before the hearing that Haq intended to plead guilty. At Richards' request, Trickey continued the hearing until next Tuesday to give Richards more time to determine whether Haq was competent to enter such pleas.
The judge also granted a prosecution request to bar Haq from having contact with victims of the shooting, or volunteers and employees of the Jewish Federation.
Haq is being held in the King County Jail without bail.
He is accused of forcing his way into the downtown offices of the Seattle charity and opening fire with a handgun, saying that he was upset about the war in Iraq and U.S. support of Israel.
In addition to the murder and attempted murder counts, Haq is charged with one count of first-degree kidnapping, involving a teenage girl who was briefly taken hostage; one count of first-degree burglary for allegedly entering a locked facility to commit a crime; and one count of malicious harassment under the state's hate-crime law.
Aggravated first-degree murder is punishable by either death or life in prison without possibility of release. King County Prosecutor Norm Maleng has not yet announced whether he will seek the death penalty.
Nine volunteers and staff members of the charity were in the courtroom as spectators, including some who were in the building at the time of the attack. The courtroom was heavily staffed by security officers, and spectators had to pass a metal detector to enter.
"It's important for people to know we will be in that courtroom all the way through this, representing the women who were attacked by the defendant and representing the entire Jewish community that was victimized by this hate crime," Robin Boehler, Jewish Federation board chair, said after the hearing. "We want to remind people that it's less about him and more about us, what happened."
Trickey expressed concern about Richards' work in the case so far.
"I have questions about Mr. Richards' ability to represent Mr. Haq," Trickey said, but took no action on the matter.
After the hearing, Richards said he thought Trickey was referring to the fact he had not yet held a face-to-face discussion with Haq about the case. Richards, who said he had defended just one other person in a capital murder case, said scheduling conflicts with the jail and his focus on other aspects of the case prevented such a meeting, although he had talked with Haq by phone four times.
Richards said he had not yet decided whether to seek a professional opinion on Haq's competency to stand trial. He said Haq was aware he could face the death penalty if convicted.
"My client would be ill advised to enter a guilty plea under these circumstances," he said, adding that he was aware Haq has history of mental illness.
The judge asked both the prosecuting and defense attorneys to research legal issues concerning a guilty plea on murder charges that may lead to the death penalty, and send him briefs before next week's hearing.
"I think the case law does permit Mr. Haq to do this, but I'm concerned about Count 1," Trickey said, referring to the aggravated first-degree murder charge.
Don Raz, senior deputy prosecuting attorney, said Haq had the right to plead guilty but agreed it was in everyone's best interest to postpone his plea until next week. Dan Donohoe, spokesperson for the King County prosecutor's office, said after the hearing that his office had no further comment on the legal issues in the case at the time.
— The Associated Press