Coronavirus isn't stopping jurors in death penalty trial against Kori Muhammad

FRESNO, Calif. (KFSN) -- The coronavirus outbreak has Fresno County courts grinding nearly to a halt, but there are still cases underway, including a possible death penalty trial against Kori Muhammad.

Sixteen jurors and alternates cast their votes on whether to push forward with the trial despite coronavirus concerns.

"Every juror checked the box 'do not request the trial be delayed'," announced Judge Jonathan Conklin after the anonymous, written vote.

Just one vote to postpone would've meant a delay until April, but instead attorneys jumped right into closing arguments.

Prosecutor Kelly Smith refreshed the jury on each murder - from Carl Williams to Zackary Randalls to Mark Gassett to David Jackson.

"This is the sound of the defendant murdering David Jackson," he told them as he played the sound of the shots that killed the last victim.

And he reminded jurors that Muhammad admitted to killing the last three of them because of race - both on the witness stand and in initial police interviews.

"Did you kill those people because they were white?" Smith said the police detectives asked Muhammad. "Yeah. I didn't want to kill no blacks or Mexicans, specifically focusing on white men."

The special circumstances of hate crime and multiple murders make this a possible death penalty case.

But defense attorney Richard Beshwate is trying to prevent that.

He isn't even denying the defendant committed murder. He just said it was second-degree murder because the 41-year-old has mental health issues and was not deliberating or premeditating. He just snapped and went on a rampage.

"In those two minutes and 46 seconds when he took those three men's lives, he wasn't in his right mind," he said.

The jury just got the case late Thursday. They'll begin deliberations Friday morning and if they find him guilty, they'll move on to the next phase, the sanity phase.
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