Strategies in Fresno racist killing spree case could create complications

FRESNO, Calif. (KFSN) -- A day after prosecutors said they'll pursue the death penalty for murders motivated by race, the defense announced Kori Muhammad will plead insanity.

He's accused of killing four people and specifically targeting white men for his last three shootings in April 2017.

The wheels of justice grind very slowly in death penalty cases and the insanity plea adds another layer of complications. Carl Williams, Zackary Randalls, Mark Gassett, and David Jackson are the victims, and we talked to a couple family members who say they're happy with the district attorney's decision.

Almost a year after the Fresno killing spree prosecutors say was motivated by race, both sides have laid their cards on the table.

The DA is pursuing the death penalty, and the defense?

"We're going to enter a not guilty plea to all counts," said Richard Beshwate Wednesday morning. "We're going to enter a not guilty by reason of insanity plea on all matters as well."

Legal analysts tell Action News death penalty cases typically take five years or longer to resolve, especially when the defense claims insanity. Both sides will line up experts and dig deep into the defendant's past.

"You have to get records from an inmate or defendant that may have been hidden or lost for years - school records, medical records, any type of criminal records, discipline records," said Ralph Torres.

Torres defended one of the last people sent to death row from Fresno County, but he never expects his former client to be executed.

"I think Marcus Wesson's going to die in prison," he said.

A jury convicted Wesson for the murders of nine people -- all branches on his twisted and incestuous family tree. 13 years later, his appeals process hasn't progressed very far.

California hasn't executed anyone since Fresno County killer Clarence Ray Allen got a lethal injection in 2006. There are 746 people are on death row, including 15 from Fresno County, with Eddie Nealy being the last three years ago.

For now, they're all a lot more likely to die of natural causes than execution, but Torres says sometimes pursuing the death penalty may still be the right thing to do.

"You have to weigh the pain and the morality of the family losing a loved one," he said. "And in most cases it's going to be a husband or wife or son or daughter and you can see why the death penalty still exists in California."

A lot of people on an Action News reporter's Facebook page asked how the defendant could plead insanity when a judge found him competent to stand trial last month.

The simplest answer is that they're different questions. Competence is a question of mental status right now. Sanity is a question of mental status at the time of the crime.
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