PHOENIX — The killing of a Peoria teen sparked outrage after the accused killer told police he stabbed the boy because the teen was listening to rap music.
Michael Paul Adams is now charged with the first-degree murder of 17-year-old Elijah Al-Amin weeks away from his 18th birthday.
The hashtag #JusticeFor Elijah has since trended, seeking the killing to be prosecuted as a hate crime.
Arizona law does not include a specific criminal charge for hate crimes. Instead, there is an option for enhanced sentencing, also known as an aggravating circumstance, if it can be determined that the crime was motivated by something like race.
When Adams was arrested, his lawyer made an initial defense about the defendant's mental health, claiming he was released from prison the day before without access to mental health medication or care.
“I don’t care what mental health issues you have. You know right from wrong,” Raheen Al-Amin, Elijah's father, told 12 News on Friday.
In police paperwork, officers said Adams stabbed Elijah in the neck because he felt threatened by the rap music Elijah was playing. According to the documents, Adams said he has been attacked by minorities who listened to similar music.
Documents show Adams further stated people who listen to rap music are a threat to him and the community. Police documents quote Adams saying he needed to be “proactive rather than reactive.”
“You have to look at all the factors that led this person to do this,” said Benjamin Taylor, a criminal defense attorney who has worked in death penalty and civil right cases.
He said the judge will have to weigh the suspect's mental health, a potential mitigating circumstance, with the alleged motivations behind the crime to decide if additional punishment is added.
“Because a little boy was killed, and because it was committed because of race, I think that will outweigh the mental health side of things,” Taylor said.
The next court date for the case is scheduled for July 15.