Maricopa County Attorney Bill Montgomery on Thursday said 17-year-old Elijah Al-Amin didn’t do anything to provoke the man who is accused of stabbing and slitting the teen’s throat.
And while some have focused on murder suspect Michael Paul Adams’ mental-health history as a possible motive, Montgomery refocused the narrative to Al-Amin as the victim.
“Elijah did nothing wrong,” said Montgomery, a father of a teen himself, who at one point choked up during the news conference. “He was at a convenience store. He was just in there shopping, buying whatever a 17-year-old boy is going to buy.”
Adams, 27, who is white, admitted tokilling Al-Amin, who was black, on July 4 after Adams heard Al-Amin playing rap music in his vehicle at a Peoria Circle K parking lot, according to police records filed in Superior Court.
Adams told police rap music makes him feel “unsafe” and the people who listen to it are a threat to him and the community, according to court documents. He also told police that in the past he has been attacked by black, Hispanic and Native American people who listen to rap music, the documents stated.
Adams said he felt threatened by the music — not the teen himself — so he needed to be “proactive rather than reactive.”
Montgomery’s office has charged Adams with first-degree murder. If convicted on that charge, Adams could be sentenced to either spend the rest of his life in prison or get the death penalty.
Prison as a societal solution
The case has received national attention. Social-media users criticized local news reports for focusing on Adam’s mental-health history. The hashtag #JusticeforElijah trended on Twitter nationally and people called for prosecutors to charge Adams with a hate crime.
During the news conference Thursday, Montgomery attempted to clarify two things: Arizona doesn’t have a hate-crime charge and his office doesn’t help people who may have a mental illness.
On the topic of hate crimes, Montgomery said there is no law in Arizona that allows prosecutors to charge someone with a hate crime. Still, he said, if there is evidence of racial bias, those details could play a role in the trial. He said if Adams is convicted, evidence of racial bias could also be used to enhance his criminal sentence.
Montgomery also said prosecutors will consider Adams’ mental-health history, like in any other case in which a defendant may have similar illnesses. But, he added, the community should not wait until a person is being prosecuted or imprisoned to deal with their mental-health illnesses.
“We need to quit looking at the criminal justice system as the end-all-be-all that fixes societal problems,” he said. “We need more of a community-oriented approach where individuals have the opportunity to be diagnosed and treated within a community setting before we start using punitive sanctions in the criminal justice system to try and force compliance.”
‘Too young to be slaughtered this way’
It’s unclear how any mental illness may have played a role in the killing of Al-Amin.
Adams had been released from the Arizona State Prison Complex two days before the killing, according to the Arizona Department of Corrections. Adams had been serving a 13-month sentence for aggravated assault.
Bill Lamoreaux, a spokesman with the Arizona Department of Corrections, said in a written statement Friday that Adams “was not designated seriously mentally ill” during his time in prison.
Jacie Cotterell, Adams’ lawyer, said her client was “set up for failure” because he did not receive adequate mental-health resources upon leaving prison.
Still, mental-health issues are not a excuse to kill someone, said Araceli Villanueva, an operations coordinator of the Arizona Council on American Islamic Relations.
“This teenager was too young to be slaughtered this way. We (people of color) shouldn’t be scared and always in fear of what’s going to happen to us,” Villanueva said.
The July 4 murder
According to police, surveillance footage shows the teen walking into the convenience store and Adams walking in a few seconds later. Adams walked around the store before lunging at the teen, according to records.
Adams used his pocketknife to stab the teen in the back and slit his throat, the records say.
The teen ran out of the store before collapsing underneath the gas pump canopy where police found him and began CPR.
He was taken to a hospital, but later died, according to police records.
Adams was arrested near the Circle K on 67th and Peoria avenues where he told an officer he was involved in the stabbing after being found with blood on his body and clothes.
Adams was booked into a Maricopa County jail on suspicion of first-degree premeditated murder and is being held on a $1 million bond. He is scheduled to be arraigned July 18.
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