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2010 Pentagon shooter deemed schizophrenic

Jan. 4, 2013 - 06:48PM   |   Last Updated: Jan. 4, 2013 - 06:48PM  |  
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McLEAN, Va. — The ex-Marine who fired shots at the Pentagon and Marine Corps museum in 2010 has been classified as schizophrenic by government doctors, but prosecutors said Friday they still want to enforce a plea deal that requires a 25-year prison sentence.

Yonathan Melaku, 25, of Alexandria pleaded guilty last year to firing shots at several military-related targets, including the Pentagon, Marine Corps Museum in Quantico, and Marine Corps and Coast Guard recruiting stations in Woodbridge and Chantilly. No one was injured, but the shootings caused more than $100,000 in damage.

He was caught months later, in June 2011, only after he was discovered trying to desecrate graves in Arlington National Cemetery. He also planned to leave bags of ammonium nitrate at the cemetery as a means to induce fear.

He struck a plea deal last year requiring a 25-year prison term, though he has still not been formally sentenced. A hearing is scheduled for Jan. 11.

After making the plea bargain, his family hired new attorneys who questioned Melaku's mental health.

In court filings Friday, federal prosecutors in Alexandria said Melaku has been diagnosed with schizophrenia. They want him to serve his sentence in a prison hospital or some other prison facility with inpatient psychiatric facilities.

In the filing, prosecutors say that the report from officials at the federal medical prison in Butner, N.C., identifying Melaku as schizophrenic gives no indication that Melaku is unfit to be sentenced.

It is unclear if Melaku's new defense attorney will seek to undo the plea bargain that calls for the 25-year sentence. They have not yet filed their sentencing memorandum. Prosecutors say the 25-year term is reasonable, especially considering that that Melaku could have faced a mandatory minimum sentence of 85 years.

And while the government report identifies Melaku as schizophrenic, there is no indication that it draws any conclusions about Melaku's mental health at the time of the shootings and whether he could have been considered legally insane.

Friday's court filing says that Melaku told the FBI after he was convicted that he self-radicalized after the Iraq war and engaged in the shootings to send a message that the U.S. should not engage in wars against Muslims in Iraq and Afghanistan. He told the FBI that he stopped shooting buildings because his message was not getting through and that he planned the cemetery desecrations as a way to escalate his activity. Had he not been caught, he said he had plans to hijack a military fuel truck and set it on fire in Maryland.

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