Trial in slaying at church fundraiser in 2008 begins

| October 7, 2009

WILMINGTON — As the trial of Monir George started Tuesday for the May 25, 2008, fatal shooting of 63-year-old Malak Michael at a fundraiser for St. Mary Coptic Orthodox Church of Delaware, all sides agreed George did it, would likely try to kill others and was mentally ill at the time.

At the time of his arrest, George had not only two loaded 9 mm handguns, but 10 ammunition clips containing an additional 150 rounds and a note in his pocket expressing his deep hatred for the Coptic Orthodox Church, starting with the words, "Let all the priests die."

Defense attorneys, however, argue the 59-year-old George was so ill he was not responsible for his actions at the Wilmington/Christiana Hilton hotel that night and should be found not guilty by reason of insanity.

Prosecutors responded that George was well aware of what he was doing, had a plan and should be found guilty but mentally ill and held responsible for his violent acts.

Before Tuesday’s proceedings, George waived his right to a jury trial and agreed to have Superior Court Judge Jan R. Jurden determine his guilt.

George’s defense is nearly identical to the one pursued by James Cooke, the man whose conviction and death sentence for the 2005 rape and murder of University of Delaware student Lindsey Bonistall were overturned in July by the Delaware Supreme Court because his attorneys pursued a mental illness defense over Cooke’s objections.

Because of the Cooke ruling, Jurden quizzed George to make sure he was in full agreement with his attorneys on the defense strategy that essentially admits his guilt to murder and attempted murder.

Standing before Jurden in white prison coveralls, George answered "Yes," and said he had no questions or concerns that needed to be addressed.

Deputy Attorney General Joseph S. Grubb then launched into his opening arguments, with defense attorney Kathryn van Amerongen saying she would defer any defense statement until later in the trial.

Grubb told the court that George "knew what he was doing and appreciated the wrongfulness of his acts."

He said George made reservations to go to the fundraiser at the Hilton after inquiring about who else would be attending, then dressed appropriately in a suit and was clean-shaven and well-groomed.

George drove from his home in Pennsylvania that night, visited the wife of a friend in Christiana Hospital, had a "calm and cool" conversation with a doctor there and then continued on to the Hilton, where children from the parish were set to perform as part of the fundraiser for a new church building.

After gaining admission, he engaged in apparently calm conversations before eventually going over to a table where the parish priest, the Rev. Mina Mina, and Malak Michael — a founder of the parish and a leader of the construction effort — were sitting, according to Grubb.

He first greeted Michael — an insult to Mina in the Coptic Orthodox Church, according to Grubb — who stood and embraced George.

When Michael sat down again, George pulled out the two pistols and pointed one at Michael’s back and one at the back of Mina.

The pistol pointed at Mina jammed while the one aimed at Michael fired, the bullet piercing Michael’s heart.

Members of Michael’s family then jumped on George, taking him down, Grubb said.

Grubb said one of the people attending the event caught the moment before the shot in a photograph, with George standing behind Michael, a gun drawn and pointed at his back.

The photo was not shown in court Tuesday.

In George’s pocket was the note ranting against the church. A similar note was found in George’s home, in which he described his actions as "a revolution."

Grubb said George somehow blamed the church and Michael for the failure of his marriage, though George did not meet Michael, with whom he had been close to at one time, until after his wife already had separated from him in the 1990s.

As he was being taken from the room, Grubb said, George shouted, "Let’s see how you are going to build that church now."

As additional evidence that George was aware of the difference between right and wrong that night, Grubb said, George apologized to police for his actions.

The trial before Jurden is expected to last about three weeks.

If George is found guilty but mentally ill, he would serve his sentence at the state psychiatric hospital until he is determined to no longer be mentally ill or officials determine there would no longer be a benefit to keeping him there.

At that point, he would be transferred to a regular prison, where he would serve the remainder of his sentence — which would be the rest of his life if he is convicted of first-degree murder.

If Jurden finds George is not guilty by reason of insanity, he would be held at the state psychiatric center until he is determined to no longer be criminally insane. If and when that point is reached, he would be released.

If Jurden finds George guilty but under extreme emotional distress, the most he could be convicted of would be manslaughter, which carries a minimum sentence of two years and a maximum of 25 years behind bars.

Tags: , ,

Category: Church Security

Comments are closed.