The attorney for a white man charged with fatally stabbing a black teenager at a convenience store because he felt threatened by his rap music says he is mentally ill and was released from jail on a prior assault conviction without medication.
The killing has ignited a national outcry, including comments from a Democratic presidential candidate who is calling for a federal investigation.
“This is a failing on the part of the (Arizona) Department of Corrections,” defense attorney Jacie Cotterell told a judge Tuesday, where Michael Adams was charged with first-degree murder.
Authorities say Adams stabbed 17-year-old Elijah Al-Amin last Thursday at a convenience store in a Phoenix suburb. First responders discovered Al-Amin collapsed outside the store’s gas pumps and took him to a hospital, where he died. Police said several people inside the store had watched as Al-Amin was stabbed in the throat and the back before he ran outside.
Officers said they found Adams nearby with a pocket knife and blood on his body. Adams, 27, told them he had felt threatened by the rap music coming from Al-Amin’s vehicle.
Adams is being held on $1 million bond. He had been freed July 2 after serving a 13-month sentence for aggravated assault.
Department of Corrections spokesman Bill Lamoreaux said in a statement that “the tragic death is terrible, and Mr. Adams will have to answer for his alleged actions.”
The statement said that when Adams was released he “was not designated seriously mentally ill” and that once the department transported him from the state prison complex where he had served his sentence to the Phoenix area it “had no further legal authority over him.”
Friends and family hugged Monday at the Islamic Community Center in suburban Tempe, where prayers were held for 17-year-old Elijah Al-Amin before his burial.
Al-Amin would have turned 18 in two weeks, family members said, and was looking forward to his senior year in high school. A modest makeshift memorial placed outside the convenience store included a pair of white porcelain angels, fresh flowers and burning calendars — including one dedicated to the Virgin of Guadalupe, the Catholic patron saint of Mexico.
The Twitter hashtag #JusticeForElijah began trending over the Independence Day holiday weekend.
“Another one of our children has been murdered in a heinous and unprovoked way_the DOJ must investigate this hate crime immediately,” Democratic candidate Cory Booker wrote on his Twitter account Monday. “RIP Elijah. #JusticeForElijah.”
Linda Sarsour, a Palestinian American civil rights activist from New York called the crime “outrageous” and said it recalled the 2012 killing of 17-year-old high school student Jordan Davis in Jacksonville, Florida. “Rest in power Elijah Al-Amin,” she wrote.
Many of the people commenting on Twitter said claims about Adams’ mental illness should not be used to explain away what they believe was a hate crime.
There is no hate crime statute in Arizona, but a judge’s determination that a hate crime has occurred can toughen sentencing. Adams is next scheduled to appear in court July 15.