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Van Nuys Man Convicted of Murdering 2 Older Brothers in 1990


VAN NUYS — As they huddled together at the trial for the murder of their two sons, Mariam Samarneh pressed a handkerchief to her lips and wept, while her husband, Awwad, stifled sporadic sobs.

They had to weep for three of their sons.

The third, 30-year-old Mawan Awwad Samarneh, was convicted Thursday by Superior Court Judge Sandy R. Kriegler of second degree murder in the shooting deaths of his brothers more than four years ago in a sparely furnished Van Nuys apartment.

Why, the distraught mother has repeatedly asked LAPD Detective Pat Anguiano, won't authorities let her son go? Why can't his family take him home and take care of him? They've already lost two sons, why must they lose a third?

Next week another trial will begin before Kriegler to determine whether Mawan Awwad Samarneh, who has been diagnosed a paranoid schizophrenic, was legally sane at the time he shot his brothers to death during an argument over his new gun.

A thin, pale man with matted hair and beard, Samarneh sat manacled at the defense table during the trial, apparently taking no notice of his parents' presence.

When he was arrested more than four years ago, Samarneh, then 25, told police the shooting was an accident. When he took the witness stand Thursday, he said he wasn't present when his brothers were shot.

Samarneh, who was unemployed, bought a .45 caliber Colt semiautomatic pistol in January, 1990 for about $500, said Deputy Dist. Atty. Leonard J. Shaffer. Later Samarneh's family would say he'd spoken about being followed by the FBI.

According to the prosecution, he was lying on a mattress on the living room floor and reading an instruction manual for the gun about midnight on Feb. 16, 1990. An argument broke out when his brothers objected to his having the gun, Shaffer said.

Seven shots ended the argument.

Later, a pastor found the bodies of the Samarneh brothers. Mazan, 31, had been shot four times, including twice in the chest. His body was lying amid shell casings on the living room floor. Maher, 32, was found on the bathroom floor, with two bullet wounds in his arms and one in his back.

Since his arrest two days after the shooting, Samarneh's mental condition has been a key issue in the case.

Defense attorney Karen King had argued for an acquittal, saying Samarneh lacked the mental capacity to intentionally or maliciously kill his brothers. Now, she will seek to prove that he was legally insane at the time of the shootings and should be found not guilty by reason of insanity.

The next phase of the trial is likely to be a more in-depth version of the testimony offered by mental health experts during the guilt phase.

Several experts have testified that Samarneh was a paranoid schizophrenic prone to hallucinations and delusions. Family members spoke of incidents when he attempted to commune with a dead uncle and demanded that air conditioning vents be closed to keep spirits out.

After his first preliminary hearing, he was found mentally incompetent for trial and sent to Patton State Hospital. Later, doctors there contended he was faking to avoid responsibility for his crimes and ordered him returned to county jail.

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