The Fayetteville Observer has two pieces today on the case of Abdullah El-Amin Shareef, who was convicted of first-degree murder last week and now faces the possibility of a death sentence.
If Shareef, who is paranoid schizophrenic and ran down five strangers in a 2004 road rampage that took him from Fayetteville to northern Harnett County, is sane, then why even pretend to have such a verdict as “not guilty by reason of insanity”?
It’s hard to see what has been accomplished, other than the transfer of Shareef from the custody of the state hospital system to the custody of the state penal system, where North Carolina will punish him for crimes he would never even have contemplated had he not been profoundly ill and untreated. Indeed, it took years of treatment to restore enough function so that he could be put on trial.
We can hope for some closure for Shareef’s victims and members of their families; but only the jurors can tell us whether they followed the letter and spirit of the law, or simply seized an opportunity to dispose of an incurably dangerous man.
There are no winners in the case of Abdullah El-Amin Shareef, the mentally ill man convicted of first-degree murder and other crimes, and now facing the death penalty. I learned this early on while watching court proceedings.
Shareef fell through one of the holes in our state’s mental health system. Lonel Bearl Bass paid the price with his life. Four other men Shareef smashed into with stolen vehicles on April 14, 2004, also paid a price, including Gary Weller, who is in a wheelchair.
I had mixed feelings after the verdict Wednesday. How could I not feel for the victims and family members, who wept? For six years, they have waited and hoped for justice.
But there are other victims, and some of them came to the stand Thursday to plead for Shareef’s life. In testimony throughout the trial from his wife, sister and others, a picture emerged of a normal husband and father with money problems, who one day began hearing voices and claiming he had the power to move the clouds or cause ground tremors.
Too bad holes in the mental health safety net caused it to happen in this unjust way, after a preventable tragedy. For the sick man to receive a death sentence would make the state’s failure total.