A man suspected in a series of stabbings in Michigan and two other states was charged with murder and attempted murder Monday as a prosecutor promised to convict the man he said has "terrorized our citizens."
It's the first murder charge in a stabbing spree that killed five men and injured nine in the Flint area. Elias Abuelazam also is a suspect in two stabbings and a hammer attack in Virginia and a stabbing in Ohio.
He was charged Monday in the death of Arnold Minor, who died after being stabbed in the chest and stomach on Aug. 2. He was also charged with four new counts of attempted murder.
Abuelazam "terrorized our citizens," Genesee County Prosecutor David Leyton said. "We've got the guy responsible for these crimes. ... We will convict him. We will lock him up for the rest of his life. His victims deserve nothing less."
Defense attorney Brian Morley said the new charges were expected and he's already received some evidence from authorities.
Abuelazam, 33, has been in custody since Aug. 11 when he was arrested at the Atlanta airport while trying to fly to Israel, his native country. Before the five new cases were filed Monday he had been charged in one stabbing that was not fatal.
"We suspect that he was preying on vulnerable, African-American men, cruising the areas of the city of Flint and the surrounding suburbs where he might find such individuals and try to take their lives and destroy them," Leyton said.
Twelve of the 14 victims in Michigan were black. While race may have been a factor, there's no evidence that it was the key motive, Flint Police Chief Alvern Lock said.
Abuelazam remained in jail and appeared by video camera to hear the charges, repeatedly saying, "Yes, sir," when asked if he understood the developments. A not guilty plea was automatically entered for him.
In Minor's death, the charge of open murder gives Leyton the option to amend it to first-degree murder or murder committed during another felony. In any case, the penalty is life in prison.
Surveillance video from a nearby convenience store showed Abuelazam's green vehicle in the area when Minor was attacked, Leyton said. Authorities later matched the victim's DNA to blood in the green Chevy Blazer, he said.
"He's going to have a hard time explaining that," Leyton said of Abuelazam.
In explaining the four new attempted murder charges, Leyton said there was a common thread: The victims were asked for help or directions before being attacked.
One of them, Etwan Wilson, 17, said he encountered Abuelazam about 2:30 a.m. as he walked home from a friend's house on Aug. 1. Abuelazam wanted to find a certain street.
"He said, 'Thank you,' and as I tried to walk away, he lunged and stabbed me," Wilson told The Associated Press.
Wilson said he ran to the first house with a light on and dropped to the floor inside while a man and woman tried to stop the bleeding and call 911. He needed 40 staples to close wounds to his torso and spent 11 days in the hospital.
"I don't want to see him on TV," Wilson said, referring to Abuelazam's court appearance via jail camera. "I want to see him in this courtroom, in a chair, up close and personal."
Lock believes that a fear of helping strangers has ebbed since Abuelazam's arrest but is not completely gone.
People "have to use their best judgment. They need to be careful," Lock said.