SSRI Ed note: Man on medication for "severe depression" shoots and kills estranged wife and her brother in court house, tried to escape. NCR plea fails.

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The Plain Dealer,  (Cleveland, OH)

August 15, 1996


The Ohio Supreme Court yesterday unanimously upheld the aggravated murder convictions and death sentence of a Cuyahoga County man who shot and killed his estranged wife and brother-in-law in the Lakeside Courthouse.   

In a 7-0 vote, the high court rejected arguments by Abdul Awkal that he was legally insane when he killed his wife, Latife, and her brother Mahmoud Abdul-Aziz on Jan. 7, 1992.

“The evidence shows that these murders were not the insane acts of a madman but were the methodical acts of an angry and vengeful man,” Justice Paul E. Pfeifer wrote for the court.

Awkal had a poor and abusive childhood in Beirut, Lebanon, and he took medication for severe depression, but those facts did not outweigh the aggravating circumstances of the crime in the eyes of the high court. Awkal met his wife and brother-in-law in a hallway outside of the Family Conciliation Services Department before a scheduled child-custody meeting regarding their pending divorce. Awkal chased the two into a room and shot each one in the head three times at close range with a 9mm semiautomatic pistol.

Awkal was confronted by deputies after he picked up his 15-month-old daughter from a hall bench and tried to leave. During the confrontation, Awkal alternately held the gun to his head and to his daughter’s head before he was shot in the back by a deputy.

Evidence at the trial showed that Awkal had loaded his car with the baby’s medical records and supplies and that he had written his brother a check for nearly all of the money in his checking account that he was supposed to split with his wife.

“Awkal prepared himself for murder and a getaway,” Pfeifer noted. “He appreciated that his actions were wrong and attempted to use his daughter as a human shield when his plans went awry.”

Kevin Spellacy, the appointed lawyer representing Awkal before the Supreme Court, was surprised by the unanimous decision. He had argued that Awkal’s first lawyer did not properly prepare an insanity defense because he allowed an unlicensed psychologist to testify and that testimony was stricken from the record.

“Wow. I’m real surprised,” Spellacy said. “There’s no getting around this guy did it, but if you don’t have your ducks in order to put on an insanity defense, you don’t do it.” Spellacy said he may ask the court to appoint new counsel and rehear the case.

George J. Sadd, an assistant Cuyahoga County prosecutor, said he applauded the decision.   “Shame on this coward of a man who turned our courthouse into a slaughterhouse,” Sadd said. “This is not the Wild West. We are a people dedicated to the peaceful resolution of problems.”

Copyright 1996, 2002 The Plain Dealer. All Rights Reserved. Used by NewsBank with Permission.
Record Number:  08728138