Israeli man heads to trial in US stabbing spree

Israeli man heads to trial in US stabbing spree

Elias Abuelazam suspected in murders, attempted murders in Michigan, Virginia and Ohio

FLINT, Michigan (AP) — Survivors said the killer’s method was quick and vicious: A muscular motorist appealed for help late at night, plunged a knife into unsuspecting strangers and said nothing before speeding away.

An Israeli-born man goes to trial Tuesday for the first time since the Detroit-area attacks of 2010, when as many as 14 people were stabbed, five fatally.

Elias Abuelazam is charged with killing a 49-year-old man whose body was found in the middle of a busy street. In all, he’s accused of three murders and six attempted murders.

Abuelazam is also linked to non-fatal stabbings in Leesburg, Virginia, and Toledo, Ohio.

Abuelazam, who has permanent resident status in the U.S., was captured in the Atlanta airport while trying to flee to Israel, just days after the last attack in August 2010. His lawyers will have a difficult time fighting the evidence at trial. The 49-year-old man’s DNA was in dried blood discovered in Abuelazam’s SUV and inside his luggage. If convicted, he faces life in prison.

“DNA’s tough — it just is,” acknowledged defense attorney Brian Morley. “He’s ready. He understands the evidence. He understands what’s going on.”

Authorities haven’t disclosed a motive for the stabbings.

Morley and co-counsel Ed Zeineh are prepared to offer an insanity defense, claiming Abuelazam was mentally ill when Arnold Minor was killed. Prosecutors have their own experts who have examined Abuelazam and are prepared to rebut it.

Jurors will probably hear from victims who survived. Those stabbings can be offered as evidence because the attacks were similar.

“The evidence can be very powerful. It shows a method of operation,” said Mark Clement, a veteran defense attorney not involved in the case. “They’ll point at the guy and say, ‘It was him,’ and that will be a big moment. The fear will come out, and everyone in that courtroom will feel it.”

Abuelazam, 35, had lived in the area only for a brief time in a house owned by an uncle who lived next door. He had spent time in Virginia before landing in Michigan and getting a $10-an-hour job at a liquor store in a tough neighborhood. Kingwater Market manager Abdulla Farrah needed someone for the afternoon shift, and after sizing up the beefy man, “figured no one would mess with him.”

When police were zeroing on Abuelazam and asked for store surveillance video, “I told them they had the wrong guy,” Farrah said. “It was a shock for me and my family.”

Tom Booker is considered the fifth victim in the stabbing spree. He spent three weeks in the hospital, including two in a coma, and has a vertical scar from his chest to his groin to show where doctors fixed major organs to save his life.

Booker said he’s unable to work because nerves in his arms were damaged from knife wounds sustained as he shielded his face during the attack. He said he and wife Barb are broke and still owe $168,000 in hospital bills.

“He’s not insane. He’s just a cold-blooded killer, flat out,” Booker said. “He’s got death in his eyes.”

Copyright 2012 The Associated Press.

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