Deliberations in El Soundani El-Wahhabi's murder trial will spill into a second day after jurors met for six hours Thursday to determine whether he is guilty of killing a fellow patient at Clifton T. Perkins psychiatric hospital.
El-Wahhabi, 51, also known as Saladin Taylor, is charged with first- and second-degree murder and is on trial in a Howard County courtroom.
In closing arguments, defense lawyer Debra A. Saltz told the 12 jurors that her client was carrying out part of a murder-suicide pact with his best friend, Susan Sachs, 45, on Sept. 25, 2010.
Sachs "wasn't, as the prosecution says, full of life," Saltz said. "She's tortured. This isn't a happy woman."
Saltz said Sachs asked El-Wahhabi to strangle her before he was to kill himself. Saltz said her client is a sick man with irrational thinking who made a promise to a friend. She suggested that the prosecution had mistakenly filled in the gaps where the details were unknown, and she urged the jury to stick to the evidence.
"I think there is serious lack of intent," Saltz said. "How sad is it that this man had to take his only friend out of this world? Why?"
Prosecutor Kim Oldham said the facts in the case do not add up to a murder-suicide. She told the jury that Sachs had done her laundry and taken a walk the day she was killed. She also had ordered shrimp and ribs for a picnic with two friends scheduled for the next day.
"The only person who says Susan wanted to die is her own killer," Oldham said. And even if the murder-suicide pact were true, she said, "there is no such thing as consensual murder. That's ridiculous."
On a courtroom projector, Oldham showed a picture of Sachs in her younger days as a ballerina and later flashed a photo of the bruises and cuts on her neck where she had been strangled with a homemade cord.
Oldham said El-Wahhabi entered Sachs' room in the medium-security, coed ward at 10:49 p.m. and, while she was sleeping, pulled a net over her head and strangled her. The prosecutor said the two struggled, moving from the bed to the corner of the room, where Sachs clawed at her neck and bled from the nose or mouth. Afterward, El-Wahhabi placed Sachs in her bed, went to the bathroom to wash up and decide his next move, and ultimately went to his room at 11:13 p.m., Oldham said.
El-Wahhabi and his attorney contend that he entered the bathroom to kill himself but changed his mind after an attempt at hanging became too painful.
Sachs and El-Wahhabi were in the psychiatric hospital after being found not criminally responsible in separate murder cases. He is now at the Howard County Detention Center.
The Perkins psychiatric hospital was the scene of three homicides over 14 months, beginning with Sachs' death, that prompted sweeping changes at the facility. New safeguards include the creation of an all-female ward.
Many of the patients who live at Perkins have violent pasts and are there for court-ordered evaluation and treatment.