NY judge: Terror defendant competent for trial
NEW YORK — A U.S.-trained Pakistani scientist accused of being an al-Qaida operative is competent to stand trial, a judge ruled Wednesday as he rejected the finding of a defense expert who concluded she was mentally ill.
U.S. District Judge Richard M. Berman based his ruling largely on the findings of three other experts who concluded the woman was faking mental illness to evade trial or improve the chance she would be returned to Pakistan. Her trial is set for Oct. 19.
The defendant, Aafia Siddiqui, has “sufficient present ability to consult with her lawyers with a reasonable degree of rational understanding and she also has a rational as well as a factual understanding of the proceedings against her,” Berman wrote.
Siddiqui, 37, was captured a year ago in Afghanistan and charged with attempting to murder U.S. soldiers and FBI agents by shooting at them on July 18, 2008. She was brought to the United States in early August to face a seven-count indictment. The most serious charge carries a mandatory minimum sentence of 30 years in prison and a maximum of life behind bars.
Over the last year, psychiatric experts who have evaluated Siddiqui have said she reported dramatic hallucinations and delusions involving flying infants, dark angels, a dog in her cell and children visiting her.
One expert noted that the hallucinatory experiences ended abruptly after a psychologist found her incompetent for trial last year after a one-month evaluation. The psychologist later changed her opinion after a six-month study and a review of thousands of documents.
“This is an instance where a defendant may have some mental health issues but may nevertheless be competent to stand trial,” Berman wrote.
Mental health experts testified earlier this month in a hearing that was interrupted several times by Siddiqui’s outbursts.
At one point during a break, she shouted toward prosecutors: “I want to make peace with the United States of America. I’m not an enemy. I never was.”
The judge noted in his ruling Wednesday that Siddiqui’s polite and appropriate demeanor during the first two hours of the hearing changed abruptly after a prosecutor asked a witness if he had seen any outbursts from Siddiqui.
“Immediately thereupon, Dr. Siddiqui became much more loquacious, outspoken and difficult in the courtroom,” Berman said.
The judge noted that Siddiqui appeared appropriately groomed and in good physical condition at her hearing, entering and exiting the courtroom at an appropriate pace and without assistance.
Her lawyer, Dawn Cardi, did not immediately respond to a message for comment Wednesday.
Yusill Scribner, a spokeswoman for prosecutors, declined to comment.
Siddiqui studied at MIT and Brandeis University before she returned to Pakistan in 2003.