Guilty but mentally ill verdict in slaying at church fundraiser

| November 3, 2009

WILMINGTON — A former veterinarian from Pennsylvania was found guilty but mentally ill Tuesday of killing the founder of a Delaware church where he used to worship.

Under state law, Monir George will spend the rest of his life in a Delaware prison or psychiatric institution, Deputy Attorney General Diane C. Walsh said. George's sentencing is scheduled for Dec. 11.

Superior Court Judge Jan R. Jurden issued the guilty-but-mentally-ill verdict on all charges against George, 59, of Whitehall, Pa., near Allentown. The charges included first-degree murder, attempted murder and reckless endangerment as well as weapons charges.

There was never an argument between prosecutors and defense attorneys that George shot Malak Michael at the Christiana Hilton. Nor was there a dispute that George was mentally troubled when he did it.

The issue at the nonjury trial was how troubled George was when he killed Michael, 63, the founder of St. Mary Coptic Orthodox Church, near Stanton, and whether George knew right from wrong on May 25, 2008, the day of the shooting.

George's public defenders, Kathryn van Amerongen and Joseph Leager, argued their client was in an altered state when he shot Michael at the hotel, where a fundraiser was being held to build a new Mary Copic church, the only Egyptian Christian place of worship in Delaware. Michael was the leader of the construction effort.

The defense sought a verdict of not guilty by reason of insanity, which would have put George in a state psychiatric center but could have seen him released at some point if officials determined he was no longer criminally insane.

"We're obviously disappointed, but we think he got a fair trial before this judge, which is all you can ask for in any case," van Amerongen said.

The court session Tuesday lasted only a couple of minutes as Jurden read her decision. George showed no emotions, and there did not appear to be anyone in the courtroom to support him.

Several of Michael's relatives were there. His wife of 42 years cried when the decision was read and was escorted from the courtroom by family members, who held her arms.

Van Amerongen said George will likely address the court — and Michael's relatives — at his sentencing. "Our client is very remorseful and extremely sorry about the loss of his friend," she said.

George had not attended the church in recent years. According to court testimony, he blamed the church and Michael for the failure of his marriage, even though the defendant did not meet the pastor until after his wife left him in the mid-1990s.

George had two semi-automatic handguns and 10 clips of extra ammunition when he walked into the hotel the day he shot Michael. He was dressed in a suit and tie and waited for Michael to finish addressing the crowd before he shot the victim after he returned to his table. It was those kinds of details that were part of the prosecution's argument that George knew what he was doing and planned the attack.

George tried to fire at the church's priest as well, but the gun jammed.

The defense countered that George told a Delaware Psychiatric Center nurse that he "blacks out when the evil takes over," she said. There was also testimony that George heard voices and hallucinated that his victim had made unwanted visits to his home.

Sam Mikhail, one of the victim's three grown children, said he was satisfied with the verdict.

"We're really relieved," he said. "We think the state of Delaware, the Attorney General's Office and all the health care workers who participated in the case did a wonderful job. It's really very refreshing to see that the system works well and we hope that we can put all of this behind us and have it be over, now that the verdict is in."

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Category: Church Security

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