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Mahdi pleads guilty

Solicitor says he will still seek death against Capt. Myers' killer

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Mahdi pleads guilty
Mikal Deen Mahdi, center, confers with attorney Glenn Walters, right, before his trial in St. Matthews, S.C., Thursday, Nov. 30, 2006. Mahdi pleaded guilty to the murder of Orangeburg Department of Public Safety Capt. James Myers in 2004. Standing in the background is Calhoun County Sheriff Thomas Summers.

After three days of jury selection, the man accused of murder in the shooting death of an Orangeburg Department of Public Safety officer pleaded guilty Thursday.

Mikal Deen Mahdi, 23, of Lawrenceville, Va. surprised the court when he chose to plead guilty to all charges related to the July 2004 death of Capt. James Myers.

First Circuit Solicitor David Pascoe said he was "pleasantly surprised" at Mahdi's decision.

"I think his decision is a testament to the outstanding job law enforcement did involving this case as well as the great job my office did in preparation," he said. "I can't have enough praise for law enforcement and my staff in putting together a case where the only verdict any jury could reach would be guilty."

Pascoe said no deals were made and he will seek the death penalty against Mahdi during the sentencing phase of the trial, which begins Monday.

Speaking through his attorneys, Glenn Walters and Joshua Koger Jr., Mahdi announced at about 10:50 a.m. that he intended to plead guilty. Third Circuit Court Judge Clifton Newman had not yet called the jury into the courtroom.

Newman recessed the court and ordered Mahdi to speak to a psychologist to determine whether he was competent to enter a plea of guilty. After little more than an hour, the judge took the bench and reconvened the court.

"Mr. Mahdi wishes to plead guilty to the charges of murder, grand larceny and burglary two," Newman said. "I will receive testimony from Dr. Michael Cross in regards to his competence to enter a plea."

Cross testified that Mahdi "demonstrated a good understanding of the legal proceedings against him and has a rational understanding of the consequences of pleading guilty to the charges."

First Deputy Solicitor Don Sorensen questioned Cross for the prosecution team.

"Is it your opinion, Dr. Cross, that Mr. Mahdi is competent?" Sorensen asked.

"Yes. In my opinion, Mr. Mahdi is competent to enter a plea in these matters," Cross said.

Satisfied with his testimony, Newman addressed Mahdi.

"Mr. Mahdi, do you wish to move forward with your plea?" Newman asked.

"Yes sir," Mahdi said.

Mahdi, his hands shackled at his waist, and his attorneys moved from the defense table to stand in front of the judge's bench. His grandmother, Nancy Thomas Burwell, who arrived yesterday from Virginia, joined them. When she reached her grandson's side, she briefly placed her hand on his upper arm in a comforting gesture.

Newman instructed the courtroom clerk to swear Mahdi in using the Bible.

"That's not necessary," Mahdi said.

The judge then instructed Mahdi to raise his right hand and take an oath to tell the truth. He did as Newman asked.

"Did Mr. Walters and Mr. Koger explain to you the consequences of your guilty plea?" Newman asked.

"Yes sir, your honor," Mahdi said.

"Did they explain that you could be sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole or that you could be sentenced to death?" Newman asked.

"Yes sir," Mahdi said.

"Do you believe the state could provide evidence beyond a reasonable doubt of your guilt?" Newman asked.

"Yes sir, your honor," Mahdi said.

Newman then asked Mahdi a series of questions to make sure that he entered his plea voluntarily.

"What is your educational background?" Newman asked.

"I have GED and some community college," Mahdi said.

"Have you ever been treated for drug or alcohol abuse or mental disease or have you taken any medicine in the last 24 hours that would cause any degree of physical or mental problems?" Newman asked.

"No sir," Mahdi said.

"Now, you are pleading guilty to murder, grand larceny and burglary two?" Newman asked.

"Yes sir, your honor," Mahdi said.

"Do you understand that the jury has already been selected and you could present your case before them to let them consider your guilt or innocence?" Newman asked. "And by pleading guilty you give up the right to present any defense to the charges?"

"Yes sir," Mahdi said.

"Do you understand that all 12 jurors must agree for you to receive the death penalty?" Newman asked.

"Yes sir, your honor," Mahdi said.

"Do you understand that if I accept your guilty plea, the jury will have no role in the sentencing but it will be solely up to me?" Newman asked.

"Yes sir," Mahdi said.

"Understanding all that, do you still wish to proceed with your plea of guilty?" Newman asked.

"Yes sir," Mahdi said.

Newman questioned Mahdi further concerning the service and advice he received from Walters and Koger. Satisfied that the attorneys served their client well, Newman asked Mahdi if he had any complaints about anybody.

"I was kept in full-body restraint all night last night," Mahdi said. "And I was told that I would be kept in full-body restraint for the duration of the trial."

Mahdi was placed in restraints Wednesday after officials said they found a homemade handcuff key in his pocket.

"Did that have any bearing on your decision to plead guilty?" Newman asked.

"I'd be lying if I said it didn't," Mahdi said. "But it wasn't a big reason, just a slight diversion. A means for them to hassle me. Orangeburg Detention Center resorted to childish ways."

"Do you wish to proceed with the guilty plea?" Newman asked.

"Yes sir," Mahdi said. "I just felt it was necessary to mention that."

The judge accepted Mahdi's guilty plea and asked Pascoe to present the facts of the case.

Pascoe told the court Mahdi's crime spree in South Carolina started in Columbia where he carjacked a Ford Expedition at gunpoint. He took tags off a car he stole in Virginia and put them on the Expedition.

Mahdi then came to Calhoun County and tried to buy gas with a stolen credit card at a Hess station, he said. Pascoe said the clerks who were on duty at the Hess station that night would testify that they called the Calhoun County Sheriff's Office to report Mahdi's actions.

"The deputy checked the tag on the Expedition and found that it was stolen," Pascoe said. "He then checked the vehicle identification number and found that the Expedition had been reported stolen."

Pascoe said Mahdi fled the Hess station, which was only about a half mile from the property Capt. Myers owned with his wife, Amy Tripp Myers.

"Capt. Myers had been to visit his dad in Orangeburg," Pascoe said. "He left his dad's home at about 6:55 p.m. and went to his farm in Calhoun County where Mahdi approached him and shot him. The victim suffered nine wounds, three to the head,

"The defendant then poured diesel fuel on the body and lit the body on fire in an attempt to destroy evidence. He also tried to burn the shed where the body was located," Pascoe said. "Amy (Myers' wife) went out looking for Capt. Myers because he had not answered any of her pages. She found his body."

Pascoe said the State Law Enforcement Division came and processed the scene. They contacted the clerks at the Hess station and put together a composite which was sent to Virginia and identified as Mahdi. The fingerprints SLED lifted at the scene were also identified as Mahdi's, Pascoe said.

A nationwide manhunt was started for Mahdi, Pascoe said. Three days later, Mahdi was located in Florida, arrested and extradited to South Carolina.

Myers' daughter, Meredith Myers Firestone, was in the courtroom. Upon hearing Pascoe recount her father's death, her shoulders crumbled and she silently cried. Also in the courtroom were Myers' father, E.L. Myers; his sister, Jan Myers; his wife, Amy Tripp Myers; and his cousins Terry Braconovich and Sandy Denny. The family was surrounded by several members of the Orangeburg Department of Public Safety and friends giving support.

"Are all those statements true, Mr. Mahdi?" Newman asked.

"Most of them," Mahdi said.

"Did you, with malice and aforethought, kill Capt. Myers?" Newman asked. "And did you on July 18, 2004 enter a building belonging to Capt. Myers and remove items from it? And did you steal the officer's 2003 Dodge Ram truck?"

"Yes sir. I did," Mahdi said.

"I accept the plea," Newman said.

Newman announced that the sentencing phase of the trial will start Monday at 10 a.m.

After the proceedings ended, Myers' sister, Jan, speaking for the Myers family, said, "It has been almost two and a half years since my brother's murder. After many postponements, we are thankful that at last Mr. Mahdi is being brought to justice. We can only hope that justice will prevail in this case and he will be sentenced for the crimes he has committed.

"Mr. Mahdi has proven by his previous record and his ongoing behavior that he has total contempt and lack of respect for the law and all of mankind. He should be held accountable for his actions and sentenced to the full extent of the law."

Mahdi's grandmother, leaving the courtroom, was incredulous and spoke through tears.

"This has been hard for me," Burwell said. "His mother left him when he was only three years old. I tried to help him as much as I could. If he'd had someone to love and guide him as I tried to do, things might have turned out differently. It's just hard to believe he did all those things.

"I'm not disputing it. It's just hard to believe."

T&D Staff Writer Thomas Brown can be reached by e-mail at or by phone at 803-533-5532. Discuss this and other stories on-line at


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