Death penalty trial starts for suspect in racist killing spree through Fresno

A death penalty trial officially started Wednesday for Kori Muhammad, the man accused of killing four men -- including three during a racist killing spree through downtown Fresno.

We won't see any evidence for more than a month, though.

Carl Williams died on April 13, 2017.

Zack Randalls, Mark Gassett, and David Jackson died in a shooting spree on April 18.

A jury could decide the fate of the suspect right around the three-year anniversary of the killings.

With a trial expected to last up to two months, finding 12 jurors and some alternates will be a challenge.

"Will it just be retired people?" said legal analyst Tony Capozzi. "Is it gonna be government people who are allowed off and paid during this period of time? Self-employed business people, it'll be almost impossible for them to sit on this jury."

The Fresno County courts sent out more than 1000 summons for jury selection starting February 3.

Attorneys discussed pretrial motions with the judge Wednesday, getting an outline for which evidence will be admitted.

The trial will be broken up into three phases: guilt, sanity, and punishment.

Capozzi says the guilt phase should be relatively quick because the shooting isn't a whodunit.

"(It) is pretty much open and shut," he said. "I really wonder is the defense is going to put any evidence on at all."

Police caught the gunman after he shot his way down Fulton Street and they say he admitted his crime immediately and said he specifically targeted white men.

Racism will come up at trial.

"That's a cutting edge issue in this case because the DA is going to use that to say why he should get the death penalty and the defense is going to use it to say he wasn't sane," Capozzi said.

During a 2018 trial to determine whether the defendant is mentally competent, an expert on radical belief systems said killing four "white devils" would make him a hero in his religion -- the Nation of Islam, which is an American black supremacy religion, and a belief system vehemently and consistently rejected by mainstream Muslims.

The Southern Poverty Law Center has labeled Nation of Islam a hate group.

One psychiatrist said the suspect suffers from delusions, but some of them are just fundamental beliefs of his faith -- like his claim that he's 67 trillion years old and he can control the weather.

Three psychiatrists agreed the defendant has schizophrenia and possibly other mental disorders, but that won't clinch an insanity verdict.

"The fact that someone had a mental defect at the time of the crime doesn't mean he was insane," Capozzi said. "Doesn't mean he couldn't form that criminal intent - the intent to kill."

Attorneys expect to seat a jury in time to start presenting evidence on March 2.
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