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Psychologist needs more time to evaluate Fresno shooting suspect’s mental state, judge says

In a rendering composed in a Fresno County courtroom, Kori Ali Muhammad is seen with his eyes closed as if he was in a trance during a brief appearance Friday, May 12, 2017.
In a rendering composed in a Fresno County courtroom, Kori Ali Muhammad is seen with his eyes closed as if he was in a trance during a brief appearance Friday, May 12, 2017. Special to The Bee

The mental health assessment of Fresno shooting rampage suspect Kori Ali Muhammad will take more time to complete, a judge was told in a brief court hearing Friday.

A new court-appointed lawyer for Muhammad, Richard Beshwate, told Judge Brian Alvarez that the psychologist evaluating his client needs another two weeks to prepare a report. A hearing in Fresno County Superior Court was set for June 1.

As he had done in two previous court appearances, Muhammad shouted, “Let black people go and reparations.” He also yelled “pray for the missing black women and children in America” and “Allahu akbar,” Arabic for “God is great.” He again promised an increase in natural disasters if those demands were not met.

In the months leading up to the shootings, Muhammad’s social media accounts made many of the same statements.

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In a rendering composed in a Fresno County courtroom, Kori Ali Muhammad is seen during a brief appearance Friday, May 12, 2017. VICKI BEHRINGER SPECIAL TO THE BEE

Beshwate was appointed to defend Muhammad after both the Fresno County Public Defender’s office and Richard A. Ciummo and Associates, the county’s alternate in public defense cases, recused themselves. Both cited a conflict of interest, but the precise reason each could not defend Muhammad was not shared in court.

The public defender’s office said it never divulges its reasons for citing conflicts of interest. A spokesman for Ciummo also declined to say exactly why his firm dropped out.

In an interview after the hearing, Beshwate said he had had a brief conversation with Muhammad. He declined to tell reporters what was said.

Beshwate elaborated on what’s next for the court proceedings. If the court-appointed psychologist decides Muhammad is unfit for trial, a second psychologist would be appointed for another evaluation. If the two agree that he is not competent, a jury trial could be held to settle the issue. And that would all occur before he is arraigned on the criminal charges.

On April 20, the Fresno County District Attorney’s office filed a complaint charging Muhammad with murder in the April 13 shooting death of security guard Carl Allen Williams III at Motel 6 on Blackstone Avenue in Fresno.

A few days later, Muhammad was charged with three counts of murder in connection with the April 18 shooting rampage that killed Zackary David Randalls, 34, of Clovis; Mark James Gassett, 37, of Fresno; and David Martin Jackson, 58, of Fresno. The complaint also accuses Muhammad of attempted murder of three other men, and special circumstances that could result in the death penalty.

Muhammad has been in the Fresno County Jail since April 18. In a phone call to The Bee, Muhammad admitted to the killings.

Eric Christensen, attorney for accused Fresno shooting spree killer Kori Ali Muhammad, said he believes his client isn't mentally competent to stand trial. He made the statement back in April 2017.

At a court appearance last month, Muhammad shouted “let black people go, and reparations” before Judge W. Kent Hamlin silenced him. Muhammad’s lawyer, Eric Christensen, told the court his client was mentally ill, and Hamlin ordered an evaluation by psychologist Dr. Richard Kendall.

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