In a courtroom nearly 3,000 miles from Seattle, Ali Muhammad Brown pleaded guilty on Tuesday to killing a college student in New Jersey and admitted he fatally shot three men in the Seattle area in spring 2014 as part of an overarching plan to retaliate against the U.S. for military actions in the Middle East.
His admission of guilt in connection with the deaths of Leroy Henderson in Skyway and Dwone Anderson-Young and Ahmed Said in Seattle’s Leschi neighborhood won’t impact the three aggravated first-degree murder charges filed against him in King County Superior Court, said Mark Larson, the county’s chief criminal deputy prosecutor.
Brown, who pleaded guilty to multiple charges, including murder, robbery and terrorism in New Jersey’s Essex County, is currently serving a 35-year sentence for a New Jersey armed robbery committed before Brown killed 19-year-old Brandon Tevlin outside Newark.
He also still faces another robbery charge in Monmouth County, N.J.
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The robbery charge will need to be resolved before Brown, now 33, is returned to Washington state, where he has yet to be arraigned on the three aggravated murder charges, Larson said.
“It kind of took us by surprise,” he said of Brown’s guilty plea in Essex County, which came on the fifth day of jury selection in anticipation of Brown’s trial, which that had been expected to begin next week.
“He will be returned to Washington. That is our intent. We have three homicides here that have not been resolved,” said Larson.
The four killings “were part of an overarching plan to kill Americans” in retaliation for what Brown contended were “millions of lives” the U.S. had taken in the Middle East, said Assistant Essex County Prosecutor Jamel Sempur.
King County prosecutors have said Brown characterized himself as a strict Muslim who became angry with the deaths of civilians and children during U.S. involvement in Iraq, Iran and Afghanistan.
“The defendant was on a bloody crusade, executing four innocent men … with the same murder weapon, over the course of approximately two months, and all under the common and single scheme of exacting ‘vengeance’ against the United States government for its foreign policies,” prosecutors wrote in court filings.
During Tuesday’s hearing in Newark, Brown said he had been “stupid” and had been operating under a mistaken ideology, the news website nj.com reported.
“The mistake that I made is I thought I was fighting jihad,” he said, according to the website.
On April 27, 2014, Henderson, 30, was walking home from a Skyway store when he was shot at least six times in the back by Brown, who was driving his former girlfriend’s SUV and had stolen her 9 mm handgun from her Tacoma apartment, charging papers say.
But Brown wasn’t identified as a suspect in Henderson’s homicide until weeks later, after he had killed Anderson-Young, 23, and Said, 27, according to the charges.
The two young men had met up with friends at R Place, a gay club on Capitol Hill, on June 1, 2014. Said had been communicating with Brown on a gay social-networking app, then connected with Brown outside the club that night, according to the charges. Said offered to drive Anderson-Young home and he and Brown got into Said’s car, charging papers say.
At the end of the 17-minute drive to Anderson-Young’s house in Leschi, Brown shot both men multiple times inside the vehicle, the charges say.
Brown reportedly said he killed Anderson-Young and Said because he believed they were gay.
He got on a Greyhound bus and fled to New Jersey two days later, police said.
Then on June 25, 2014, Brown shot Tevlin as his car was stopped at a traffic light in West Orange, a few miles from Newark.
Brown, who has prior criminal convictions, was identified from a palm print left on a window of Said’s car, according to the charges. Police in Seattle and in New Jersey matched bullets and shell casings from the three homicide scenes to the 9 mm handgun that was in Brown’s possession when he was arrested in New Jersey on July 18, 2014.
Brown, who was the first person charged with terrorism connected to a homicide under a New Jersey law, faces a life sentence for the crimes he pleaded guilty to on Tuesday.
In 2016, King County Prosecutor Dan Satterberg announced he would not seek the death penalty against Brown, which means Brown will face a sentence of life in prison without the possibility of release should he be convicted of aggravated murder for the deaths of Henderson, Anderson-Young and Said.
Knowing the man accused of killing her son will never again walk free gives Falana Young-Wyatt a degree of peace.
“It’s a bit of a relief, that something is actually happening. I’ve been waiting four years to get justice for my son,” Young-Wyatt, the mother of Anderson-Young, said Tuesday.
She hopes Brown will also plead guilty in King County, thereby sparing her family and the other victims’ families the trauma of a trial. But she still wants to face Brown and tell him how his actions have forever changed her life.
“I need to have my closure, I need to have my day in court and face him and say what I need to say,” Young-Wyatt said. “I still have so many questions that may never be answered. Did my son know his life was in danger? Was he afraid?
“All I have is those last moments. ‘Have a good time. See you later.’ Those were my last words to him. That’s it,” she said. “ … He had such a bright future ahead of him and it’s just so disturbing this man could take his life in the blink of an eye.”