The defendant embraced a religious mixture of Voodoo and the Nation of Islam, which includes in its theology some of the exact elements two psychiatrists used to determine he was delusional and psychotic.
Carl Williams died first, gunned down while working security at Motel 6.
Six days later, Zack Randalls was shot in his PG&E truck, then Mark Gassett and David Jackson in a downtown Fresno shooting spree lasting just a few minutes.Four men killed. One suspect arrested and charged with a horrible hate crime.
But by the tenets of his Nation of Islam faith, he's not a villain. He's a hero because of the number four.
Dr. Meloy viewed videos from the Motel 6 murder of Carl Williams and videos from days later when @FresnoPolice interviewed the defendant and took him around to the scenes of the other murders. https://t.co/eNvEEhKBBT— Corin Hoggard (@corinhoggard) January 17, 2018
"Each Muslim is required to bring four devils and by bringing and presenting four at one time, his reward is a button to wear on the lapel of his coat and also, a free transportation to the holy city," said California Dep. Of Corrections investigator Brian Bishop, who specializes in inmate radicalization.
Bishop says the defendant's belief system may sound like conspiracy theories, but it's openly discussed and accepted in the Nation of Islam, which is an American black supremacy religion, and a belief system vehemently and consistently rejected by mainstream Muslims.
He says many members believe they're 67 trillion years old, and a mother ship or mother wheel will eventually come to the earth to exact revenge on white devils or skunks.
"They also believe that they can control or manipulated weather patterns, things of that nature," he said.
Two psychiatrists who found the defendant incompetent to stand trial cited these very beliefs as paranoid delusions, and part of the basis for believing he suffered from a psychotic disorder -- either schizophrenia or schizoaffective disorder.
"Not all of what appear to be delusions in Mr. Muhammad, and a delusion is a fixed and false belief, are symptoms of his schizophrenia," said Dr. John Meloy, a forensic psychologist. "Many of them are considered legitimate elements of the theology of the Nation of Islam."
Meloy has also analyzed several high profile criminals, including John Hinckley, Jr, who shot President Ronald Reagan, and Polly Klaas' killer, Richard Allen Davis.
Last year, he added Fresno's racist killing spree suspect to his list.
Bishop was unfamiliar with “Kali Sufi” branch of NOI the defendant claimed to have created. https://t.co/sU6dECUYaW— Corin Hoggard (@corinhoggard) January 17, 2018
"He does have a diagnosis of schizophrenia and he has been chronically schizophrenic," Dr. Meloy said, agreeing with two court-appointed psychiatrists who said the defendant is mentally ill.
But prosecutors have argued the suspect is still competent to stand trial. They say he has lucid conversations away from the doctors and he understands the court process -- as when he discussed the possible consequences of his crimes in jail phone calls.
"Did he also talk about the prospect that he could face the death penalty in this case?" prosecutor Brian Hutchins asked a Fresno County district attorney investigator who reviewed 74 of the defendants' phone calls from jail.
"Yes, he talked about that multiple times," said Romeo Grajeda.
On the issue of competence, Dr. Meloy differed from the psychiatrists.
"It's very clear to me that Mr. Muhammad is competent to stand trial," he said.
Dr. Meloy said the defendant suffers from delusions, but not all of them are symptoms of his schizophrenia. Many of them are fundamental beliefs of his Nation of Islam faith -- like his claim that he's 67 trillion years old and he can control the weather.
But Dr. Meloy says the suspect knows how to combine his religion and his illness to make people believe what he wants them to believe.
"Although Mr. Muhammad does have a major mental disorder, he is able to deliberately use the symptoms of that disorder which are real -- namely delusions and hallucinations -- to impression manage depending on who he is talking to."
Testimony in the case should wrap up Thursday and then it's up to the judge to decide whether the defendant is mentally competent to stand trial.