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Lawyers argue over life or death in St. Pete store killings

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Published:   |   Updated: August 5, 2013 at 07:02 AM

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CLEARWATER - Once, his father stole the family TV as the children were watching cartoons, selling it to buy drugs.

His IQ is 83, putting him in the bottom 13 percent of the population.

And he hears voices.

These are just some of the observations defense attorneys are making as they try to save Khadafy Mullens, the high school drop-out who murdered two people and tried to kill a third during a St. Petersburg convenience store robbery in 2008 that was captured on videotape.

On April 29, Mullens, 30, took the unusual step of pleading guilty to all the charges he was facing - two counts of first-degree murder and one count of attempted first-degree murder - without anything promised in return, even though prosecutors are seeking the death penalty in the case.

Typically, once a defendant facing a possible death sentence is convicted of murder in Florida, a jury hears evidence before issuing a recommendation for or against the death penalty. They take a vote, and that vote is passed along to the presiding judge, who has to give it great weight before deciding whether the suspect lives or dies.

That's not what's happening with Mullens, though.

At the April 29 plea, Assistant Public Defender Jill Menadier asked Circuit Judge Philip Federico if he would waive the death penalty phase of the case, where jurors hear testimony, and make the decision himself without a jury recommendation. Federico obliged, much to the disappointment of prosecutors, who wanted jurors to play a role, as they represent the community at large.

Now, after a three-day hearing in May and receiving memoranda from Menadier and Assistant State Attorney Glenn Martin, Federico has to weigh the factors arguing for the death penalty, called aggravators, against those arguing against it, called mitigators. Federico is expected to announce a decision on Aug. 23.

At the April plea hearing, Menadier declined to say whether defense attorneys had advised Mullens to bypass a trial and plead guilty because seven video cameras had recorded the crime.

In his memorandum arguing for the death penalty, Martin notes that Mullens meets three of the requirements laid out in state statutes: he had previously been convicted of a felony, the murders and attempted murder were committed in the commission of a robbery and the killings were doine to help Mullens avoid arrest.

On Aug. 17, 2008, Mullens and an accomplice went into the Central Food Mart at 2157 Central Ave. in St. Petersburg and committed a robbery. Mullens fatally shot the owner, Mohammad Uddin, and a transient, Ronald Hayworth, who stumbled upon the robbery. He then grabbed a customer entering the store, Albert Barton, dragged him inside and shot him in the face. Barton survived.

The point of shooting Uddin and Hayworth was to eliminate them as witnesses, Martin wrote.

In her memorandum, some of Menadier's legal points touch on the extent to which Mullens' criminal history should be held against him, but most of them concern his background and mental state.

She essentially says that one of the reasons Mullens should be sentenced to life instead of death is because of "extreme mental or emotional disturbance."

"This circumstance applies in cases where there is a mental or emotional disturbance that is 'less than insanity but more than the emotions of an average man, however inflamed,' " Menadier wrote.

Forensic psychologist Scot Machlus has said Mullens is bipolar, suffers from a personality disorder and is addicted to several substances. He had previously been diagnosed a schizophrenic.

Twelve years ago, when he was incarcerated as a teenager, corrections officers thought Mullens "appeared to be slow and lacked the cunning of most of the other inmates," Menadier's memorandum states. He also appeared to be hearing voices.

Other inmates would laugh at him and call him "bug."

He was prescribed Remeron, an antidepressant drug, and Risperdal, an antipsychotic, and appeared to do better. He was no longer a major disciplinary problem for the guards.

But once Mullens was released from prison in 2007, after serving roughly five years for aggravated battery with a deadly weapon and dealing cocaine, among other things, he stopped taking his medications,

Just 10 days before the Aug. 17, 2008, slayings, he was evaluated at the Suncoast Center in St. Petersburg and prescribed medication, but there's no evidence he filled his prescription.

Instead, Mullens was using cocaine daily and had been doing so for two months, Menadier's memorandum states. His mother said he was also drinking a lot and smoking marijuana.

The effect of drugs and alcohol on someone who is bipolar is greater than it is on someone who is not suffering from a mental disease, Menadier argued. Mullens was seen running around and acting goofy and appeared to be "kind of off."

"Because of this synergistic effect, there was not a lot of thought process during the homicides, and his behavior was more instinctual than planned," she wrote.

Dark clouds seemed to hang over Mullens from birth. Mental illness and substance abuse are prevalent in his family history, and his father, Mohammad Ibrahim, named him after Muammar Gaddafi, the Libyan despot.

Ibrahim also was bipolar and suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder. Mullens' mother, Cassandra Washington, is prescribed antidepressants. His maternal uncle is a schizophrenic, and his maternal grandmother had a nervous breakdown during which she tried to kill one of her children, the memorandum states.

"This predisposition put Mr. Mullens at a greater risk of developing a mental illness himself," Menadier's memorandum states.

He was also apparently born with a "genetic predisposition to substance dependency," the document states.

His father abused heroin, alcohol, marijuana, cocaine and prescription drugs, with his addictions so severe that money that should have been spent to pay bills was used to buy drugs; that often left the family hungry, without electricity and homeless.

Mullens' mother smoked marijuana and drank excessively, and his younger sister, Kendra Mullens, died of a cocaine overdose this year, shortly before she was to provide testimony supporting a life sentence for her brother.

Mullens' father was often not around - sometimes because he was in prison, where he once served 10 years for murder. When he was around, he beat Mullens' mother at least four times a week - knocking her down, dragging her around and choking her, in what were unprovoked attacks that "came out of nowhere," Menadier's memorandum states.

He also beat Mullens, as did Mullens' older brother, Wesley, who often choked Mullens until he passed out, the memorandum states.

By the time Mullens was 3, he was living in his third home, a one-bedroom apartment that housed two adults and four children. After his family was evicted, they were homeless for about two months. What little money there was spent on drugs.

By the time Mullens was 5, his father had taught him how to shoplift. Described as gullible and easily manipulated, Mullens would often steal at the behest of others, whether it was merchandise at a store for his sister, bicycles from a garage for his brother or grapefruit on lawns for his friends.

With an IQ of 83, Mullens thinks at the third-grade level and speaks at the sixth-grade level, Menadier's memorandum states. He was placed in a drop-out prevention program in the fourth grade and sentenced to prison at 17.

"By the age of 10, Khadafy Mullens was already too far gone to be helped in the eyes of people who loved and cared for him," Menadier wrote.

sthompson@tampatrib.com

(727) 215-6504

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