A Grand Forks man who told police he tried to kill a woman because she was a witch appeared in court on Friday to address a motion alleging his constitutional rights were violated while incarcerated.
An evaluation from the state hospital determined Akmal Rashidovich Azizov, 21, may suffer from a mental illness, but is competent enough to be held responsible for attempting to slash the throat of a woman he told police he believed to be a witch. A private psychiatrist hired by the defense disagreed with the evaluation and claimed the attempted murder charge is a direct result of Azizov’s delusions.
Officer Brandan Steffan with the Grand Forks Police Department testified during Friday’s evidentiary hearing about a call to which he responded at the 3800 block of Garden View Drive on Sept. 5.
Steffan said, as he walked up to the scene, Azizov told him that he was the perpetrator and had a folding pocket knife and a “healing stone” in his hands. Azizov requested to talk with officers privately and agreed to an interview after being read his Miranda warning, Steffan said.
Azizov told officers he decided to kill a woman that he knew because she “was a witch and he needed to slay her” because she was “the cause of all the stress and negativity in his life,” according to an affidavit. He spent several weeks stalking the woman on UND’s campus and throughout the city before taking action, the affidavit said.
Azizov read online that silver is needed to “slay witches and demons,” so he purchased an antique silver pocket knife from the online retailer Etsy, a court document said.
He smashed the back window of the woman’s car while it was parked outside her apartment in hopes it would lure her from the building, the affidavit said. When she came out, he attacked her with the knife and attempted to slit her throat, according to the court document.
The woman freed herself from Azizov and ran to a neighbor’s apartment to wait for police, the affidavit said. She suffered non-life threatening lacerations and did not need to be hospitalized.
Azizov’s lawyer, Theodore Sandberg, has pushed for his client to undergo mental health evaluations several times since his incarceration and said his client suffers from schizophrenia. Two doctors confirmed the diagnosis during testimony on Friday and an examiner from the state hospital said it was likely Azizov struggled with mental health issues.
Sandberg filed motions in November that allege Azizov’s constitutional rights were violated in jail because he was interviewed without counsel while it was clear he was mentally ill. The motion, which was heard Friday, called for all charges to be dropped.
"The damage is now done," the motion's brief said. "As the saying goes, you cannot unhear the statement; you cannot put toothpaste back in the tube. This brazen unconstitutional act by a government agent, or agents as the case may be, is so repugnant as to demand an equal remedy. Only dismissal will do."
Grand Forks County Correctional Center Officer Brenda Milera said Azizov had asked for paperwork from his personal belongings that “contained the cure for cancer.” He also asked for silver to swallow in order to relieve a headache, court documents said. Milera told him there wasn’t any paperwork with his belongings.
While Cpl. Dan Harvala was speaking in an interview room to Azizov about property issues, the officer said the jailed suspect also provided a lengthy statement related to his case. Harvala read him the Miranda warning and asked several times if Azizov was sure he wanted to continue without a lawyer, he testified.
According to the motion, Sandberg maintained the interview was unconstitutional because Azizov was clearly mentally unstable. Harvala said he was unaware that Azizov had undergone a psychiatric evaluation the previous day and was scheduled for an examination at the state hospital.
The police department conducted an internal investigation to see if Harvala violated policy during the interview, but he said investigators determined there was no violation.
If convicted of attempted murder, Azizov could spend up to 20 years in prison and face deportation because he is not an American citizen. He's also facing charges of terrorizing, criminal mischief and stalking.
Attorneys ran out of time Friday to give closing statements and will instead submit them to the court within three weeks.