When a defense attorney stands up in court and calls his own client a terrorist, something else is going on beneath the surface. In a hearing in Little Rock on Tuesday, Abdulhakim Mujahid Muhammad's defense attorney said his client was "turned into a weapon" during his time in Yemen.
Claiborne Ferguson wants his client's trial for killing an Army private and wounding a second outside a Little Rock recruiting center last year switched to federal court. There, he might be able to argue his client is protected by war and humanitarian laws and gain access to FBI files on Muhammad's radical connections.
But state prosecutors seem intent on presenting a nuts and bolts murder case. No federal witnesses will be called, they promised.
Wright rejected the defense arguments. The trial is scheduled to begin in late February. If convicted, Muhammad could face the death penalty. To avoid that sentence, Ferguson argued, information in the FBI's hands is needed.
"What turned my client into what he is today happened somewhere between Nashville and Yemen," Ferguson argued. "Everyone is dancing around the issue that my client is a terrorist."
Muhammad has repeatedly acknowledged being the shooter, including in a letter he wrote from jail to Circuit Judge Herb Wright in January. In it, he said he was affiliated with al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula and wanted to plead guilty. "This was a jihadi attack on infidel forces," the handwritten note said.