A frail-voiced Simon Bahta pled not guilty by reason of insanity to murdering his 3-year-old daughter and ex-girlfriend Monday at Alexandria’s courthouse.
Alexandria police found 27-year-old Seble Tessema and the former couple’s 3-year-old daughter, Eden, dead in Tessema’s West End apartment on April 11, 2010. Both of their throats were slit and Tessema was stabbed 40 times, authorities said.
Police arrested Bahta, 35, also known as Simon Asfeha, in New York later that month after a national manhunt.
Nearly a year later, the defense’s case rests on Bahta was psychotic at the time of the slayings. Public defender Melinda Douglas used the gruesome crime scene to claim her client’s innocence Monday.
“The degree of violence … especially to that child raises the question of insanity,” Douglas told the jury in her opening statement. “There wasn’t really a reason for it and that’s why it’s insanity … the Commonwealth won’t be able to explain to you the ‘why.’”
The prosecution used the same graphic crime scene to portray their case to the jury. Deputy Commonwealth’s Attorney Krista Boucher evoked “pools of blood” and Eden’s throat “slit the bone” in her opening statement.
Hard forensic evidence and witnesses would prove Bahta was a “sane and jealous man” guilty of both murders, Boucher said.
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Bahta’s lawyers will prove several years of mental illness stemming from his forced conscription into the Ethiopian army as a 14-year-old during the Eritrean-Ethiopian War, and culminating in a custody battle over Eden, Douglas said.
A teary friend and brief roommate, Mahlat Samual, testified in the case as the first witness. She was with Bahta in the days before the slayings and heard him arguing with Tessema on the phone.
“I’m either going to die or you guys are going to die, but somebody’s got to die,” she remembered Bahta saying.
Judge Lisa Kemler is presiding over the trial, which is expected to run at least through the end of the week.