Jury arrives at mixed verdict in East Liberty Target knife attack case
An Allegheny County jury delivered a bizarre verdict Thursday, finding that a homeless man with a history of mental illness was legally insane — and not — when he stabbed several people, including a teenage girl he took hostage inside a Target in Pittsburgh's East Liberty neighborhood.
The jury found Leon Walls, 44, guilty but mentally ill on nine counts, including attempted homicide, aggravated assault and making terroristic threats; not guilty by reason of insanity on one count of attempted homicide; and not guilty on eight other counts. Common Pleas Judge Donna Jo McDaniel will sentence him later this year.
The mixed verdict suggests the jury thought Walls went back and forth between moments of insanity March 25, 2013, when he stabbed a man along Highland Avenue and ran into Target, where he took Allison Meadows, 16, of Chattanooga, Tenn., hostage for a few moments, stabbed her and then cut shoppers who intervened.
“Essentially, the jury said some of the moments he was insane and in other moments he was not insane, he was simply mentally ill,” said University of Pittsburgh law professor John Burkoff. “This is clearly a compromise verdict ... a very weird but lawful verdict.”
Walls' lawyer, Andrew Capone, said during his closing argument Wednesday that his client was insane at the time of the attack.
“He did not understand what he was doing was wrong,” Capone said.
Assistant District Attorney Matthew Rabinowitz agreed that Walls has a mental illness but said that was not a good excuse.
“The defendant may have schizophrenia, but not even a person who has schizophrenia goes out and stabs people,” Rabinowitz said.
Meadows' father, Glen Meadows, said he was grateful that his daughter, now 18, was not killed. He said he hopes McDaniel sends Walls to prison, where he can receive treatment for his illness.
“To be honest, (the verdict) was disappointing ... in that some of the charges didn't stick,” he said. “I think everybody in that courtroom would agree if he's on the streets, he will hurt someone again.”
Adam Brandolph is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-391-0927 or firstname.lastname@example.org.