Psychiatrist: Ohio killer of 2, Abdul Awkal, is mentally competent

CLEVELAND - A psychiatrist testifying Wednesday for the state said a condemned killer facing execution next week is mentally competent, disputing a defense claim that he is too psychotic to be executed.

"Mr. Awkal had a motive to distort information. Here's a man fighting for his life," Dr. Stephen Noffsinger testified at the competency hearing for Abdul Awkal, 53.

Awkal received a last-minute reprieve from Gov. John Kasich last week, just hours before he was set to die for killing his estranged wife and brother-in-law in a Cleveland courthouse in 1992.

Kasich granted the reprieve to allow time for a hearing on Awkal's mental competency.

Awkal's attorneys argue he is so mentally ill he believes the CIA is orchestrating his execution.

But Noffsinger testified that Awkal is mentally competent and had a motive to claim that the CIA has conspired against him.

Noffsinger said Awkal met the four-part standard for mental competency, including an understanding of the death penalty, why he was sentenced to death and the conviction that led to his sentence.

Under cross-examination by the defense, Noffsinger agreed that Awkal may have after-affects from growing up in Lebanon during the civil war.

The defense also elicited testimony from Noffsinger that Awkal may have been more open about his CIA claims with a defense psychiatrist.

A defense expert, Dr. Pablo Stewart, interviewed Awkal on May 25 and said in an affidavit that Awkal has delusions and is mentally incompetent to be executed because he lacks a rational understanding of why he faces the death sentence.

Kasich's decision came shortly after the Ohio Supreme Court had refused to delay the execution to allow the hearing. Governors in Ohio have the ultimate say on executions.

Awkal was sentenced to death for killing his estranged wife, Latife Awkal, and brother-in-law Mahmoud Abdul-Aziz in January 1992 in a room where the Awkals were to take up divorce and custody issues.

In the months before the shooting, Awkal bought a pistol and threatened to kill his wife and her family if they didn't dismiss the divorce proceedings. Prosecutors said Awkal also changed his address and wrote his brother a check for most of his assets before heading to court on the day of the shooting.

If put to death this month, Awkal would be the second man Ohio executes this year since the end of an unofficial moratorium on capital punishment that lasted six months.

Awkal's mental health has been the subject of court hearings for years.

A court initially found him not competent to stand trial because of his severe depression. He was sent to a mental health center and put on antidepressant and anti-anxiety medications before the court found him competent for trial, where he was convicted of aggravated murder.

The Ohio Parole Board voted 8-1 last month against recommending mercy, with most members concluding that Awkal planned the shooting and that it wasn't the result of a psychotic breakdown.

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