An attorney for the Binghamton graduate student charged with stabbing a professor to death last winter has filed a notice with the Broome County Court declaring the defense's intent to present psychiatric evidence demonstrating that the defendant suffered from "longstanding mental illness."
Abdulsalam Al-Zahrani, a 46-year-old Saudi national, was accused of stabbing Richard Antoun, 77-year-old Binghamton University professor emeritus, four times with a 6-inch kitchen blade in the professor's office in Science I on Dec. 4, 2009.
According to court documents submitted by Al-Zahrani's attorney, Frederica Miller, the defense will argue that the defendant lacks criminal responsibility for his action under New York penal law because he could not appreciate its nature or consequences due to mental defect.
Miller's filing states that two mental health experts, Steven Simring and Charles Ewing, will testify that Al-Zahrani has schizoaffective disorder and was psychotic at the time of the stabbing.
Medical dictionaries describe schizoaffective disorder as a diagnosis characterized by severely depressed mood coupled with disconnection from reality.
Broome County District Attorney Gerald Mollen said that the mental condition of the defendant is not adjudicated separately, and it will be an issue at trial.
"If the expert testimony is proper in the rules of evidence, then the defense is allowed to use it at trial," Mollen said. "But there's a statutory requirement that prior notice be given before psychiatric evidence may be used, which is all that's taken place in this case so far."
The court documents also include a notification of the prosecution's "intent to use admission or confession" given orally by the defendant.
A pre-trial conference will take place Friday, according to both Mollen and a co-attorney for Al-Zahrani, Vincent Accardi, to discuss preliminary matters with the judge, such as the scheduling of the trial and motions.
Accardi would not comment on whether Al-Zahrani had ever received psychiatric treatment or taken medication for a psychiatric condition prior to his arrest, and Miller declined to be interviewed.
According to Souleymane "Jules" Sakho, a former roommate of Al-Zahrani, Al-Zahrani had often complained of financial difficulties. Sakho said that he had tried to help Al-Zahrani by providing food and cigarettes. Al-Zahrani began to take advantage of the help and became disgruntled when the subject was brought up, Sakho said.
The two had argued to the point where Al-Zahrani had felt threatened and called the Binghamton Police, although they took no further action after investigating. Sakho, a Philosophy, Interpretation and Culture student, discussed his concerns about Al-Zahrani with Director of PIC Joshua Price, who advised Sakho to speak to an official at the University Counseling Center. Sakho said the official then told him simply to avoid Al-Zahrani whenever possible.
Al-Zahrani had been having financial difficulties and had been attempting to transfer out of the anthropology department and into the PIC program, according to Price.
Price had met briefly with Al-Zahrani earlier in the day of the attack to discuss the financial situation, and Price informed Al-Zahrani that he was unlikely to receive any financial aid.
Two hours later, Antoun had been stabbed. He died at Wilson Memorial Hospital later that afternoon. Antoun is survived by his wife, who preferred not to discuss the situation.
"He [Al-Zahrani] didn't speak of his relationship to Professor Antoun at all, though he mentioned several [anthropology professors] he worked with," Price said.
Al-Zahrani has been held at the Broome County Sheriff 's Correctional Facility on remand since he was arrested in December, and on Jan. 22, 2010 he pled not guilty to one felony count of second-degree murder.