FRESNO, Calif. (KFSN) -- The coronavirus crisis has postponed punishment in the case of Kori Muhammad, who was convicted of four murders and a hate crime.
The defendant had a last-minute change of heart Friday as COVID-19 is complicating justice for the families of his victims.
In a nearly empty courtroom, a quadruple killer sat next to one of his attorneys and watched a TV screen.
"As you can see that for today's purposes we are conducting this hearing remotely," said Judge Jonathan Conklin.
The coronavirus has shut down most court operations in Fresno County, but this case has been one of the exceptions.
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After a jury found the defendant guilty in late April, he dropped an insanity plea in exchange for the prosecution dropping its pursuit of the death penalty.
He was set for sentencing Friday and initially wanted his punishment.
"I would like to get sentenced today, your Honor," said Muhammad.
But 10 minutes later, he changed his mind.
"I was thinking about it," he said. "I want to reinstate my NGI (not guilty by reason of insanity) plea."
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"You need to talk to your attorney about that," the judge told him.
Legal analyst Tony Capozzi says it would be nearly impossible for the defendant to reinstate his insanity plea unless he could prove he was incompetent when he withdrew it last month.
But he was found competent in a 2018 trial and testified in his own defense two months ago.
The judge could consider his request on June 5 when the case comes back to court, possibly in a more recognizable form.
"This COVID crisis is very real and it will not be over by any stretch of the imagination by then," said Judge Conklin. "We're hopeful that by that time we can at least get department 72 (his usual courtroom) open."
Carl Williams, Mark Gassett, Zack Randalls, and David Jackson died by Muhammad's hand in April 2017.
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Some of their family members tell me the COVID-caused delay in justice has been frustrating and even in two weeks, they won't get to talk about the impact of the murders the way they want to do it.
"Numerous members of the families are asking if at all possible for that when members of the families come into the courtroom, that they have additional members of their family with them present in the courtroom as they read their statements," said prosecutor Kelly Smith.
The judge decided to allow three of them into the courtroom at the same time until he announces the punishment, when he'll allow three from each family.
But it's all dependent on the status of the coronavirus crisis.
Recent employee exposures to the virus have caused brief court closures and the judge said new information could change his mind, possibly delaying the case even further.
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