The capital murder trial of Abdulhakim Mujahid Muhammad - formerly known as Carlos Bledsoe - began Monday in Little Rock, Ark. Muhammad is charged with shooting to death Army Pvt. William Long and wounding Private Quinton Ezeagwula outside a military recruiting station there on June 1, 2009. Muhammad faces the death penalty if convicted of murdering Pvt. Long.
Muhammad's lawyers do not contest that he carried out the attack. Defense attorney Patrick Benca told prospective jurors in Pulaski County Circuit Court that his side would attempt to show Muhammad was innocent by reason of mental disease or defect. The trial is expected to last up to two weeks.
Carlos Bledsoe, a Memphis resident, converted from Baptism to Islam after enrolling at Tennessee State University in Nashville in the fall of 2003. He dropped out of school about a year after enrolling. According to his father Melvin, Carlos Bledsoe had planned to major in business and take over the family's tour business when his parents retired.
But Carlos/Abdulhakim had no interest in leaving the Muslim community in Nashville. Things spiraled downhill after he went to Yemen - a hotbed of Islamic radicalism -in 2007 for the stated purpose of teaching English. In November 2008, he was arrested for carrying a fake Somali passport and overstaying his visa. He said he planned to go to Somalia to fight a jihad against Jews and Americans.
In January 2009, Abdulhakim Muhammad was released from jail and - against his wishes - deported from Yemen back to the United States. His family tried to draw him away from radical Islam by sending him to Little Rock to run a new branch of the family business.
But Muhammad bought guns and ammunition, and in late May decided to strike. First, he drove from Memphis to Nashville and threw a Molotov cocktail at what he thought was a local rabbi's home. He then drove to Florence, Ky. and tried to attack an Army recruiting center but found it closed. Frustrated, Muhammad traveled to Little Rock on June 1 and opened fire on Long and Ezeagwula as they smoked cigarettes outside a recruiting station.
Muhammad has refused to cooperate with his attorneys. He wrote that he wants to plead guilty and is "affiliated with al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula." Muhammad has also denied that the Little Rock attack was a crime, insisting it was justified "because U.S. soldiers are killing innocent Muslim men and children."
Several newspapers are live-blogging Muhammad's trial, including the Memphis Commercial Appeal, which can be found here, and the Arkansas Times, which is here.