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Iraq war veteran found guilty of murder; jury to determine sanity

A gavel sits on display in a military courtroom Jan. 29, 2014, at Dover Air Force Base, Del. (Airman 1st Class William Johnson/U.S. Air Force)

An Iraq war veteran who said nanobots injected into his brain by a secret government agency compelled him to kill a sleeping stranger in Oceanside two years ago was convicted Thursday of first-degree murder.

A Vista jury also found to be true a special-circumstance allegation that former Marine and triathlete Mikhail Schmidt had been lying in wait before the killing. The victim, Jacob Bravo, was stabbed at the construction site where Bravo had been working and staying in March 2017.

The guilty verdict — which came after less than an hour of deliberations — ends the first phase of the trial. Schmidt pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity, so the same jury will be tasked with determining if the 33-year-old was legally sane or insane at the time of the killing.

On Monday, the Superior Court jury will begin hearing evidence regarding the question of Schmidt’s sanity. The burden of proof shifts to the defense, which must show that at the time of the killing, Schmidt was legally insane. That means — in part — that he was unable to understand at that time that the act he was committing was morally and legally wrong.

At the start of guilt phase of the trial, Deputy District Attorney Cal Logan pointed to statements Schmidt had made to Oceanside police after his arrest, and said the defendant had carried out the attack for the thrill, “just because he wanted to kill somebody.”

Schmidt’s attorney, Brad Patton, told the jury about his client’s repeated head traumas, including twice when Schmidt was knocked unconscious while in Iraq for seven months in 2008.

The defendant was honorably discharged as a staff sergeant in 2013 and was subsequently diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder. After his discharge, he sometimes drank alcohol daily, according to his own testimony at the trial.

Schmidt also testified about the killing, telling the jury that he saw a drunken Bravo walking back to the construction site on Windward Way, two blocks from the beach in north Oceanside, on the evening of March 8, 2017.

Schmidt said he remembers “identifying (Bravo) as the target that Agent Orange wanted me to eliminate.”

Agent Orange, Schmidt said, was the name of a secret government agency that had injected him with nanobots while he was a Marine.

“That night, my nanobots were activated,” Schmidt testified. “Afterward, I knew, I am working for this agency now.

Schmidt said he followed 37-year-old Bravo to the construction-site trailer where Bravo stayed during the weekdays. On weekends, he would return to his home in San Bernardino County.

As Bravo slept that night, authorities said, Schmidt slipped in and stabbed him twice in the kidneys and once in the neck.

The next day, Schmidt told the owner of the sporting goods store where he worked about stabbing the stranger. The owner’s wife called police.

On cross examination, Schmidt said he had been joking about injected nanobots dating back to his time as a Marine. Then he said it’s “also real.”

Schmidt faces life in prison without parole if found to be legally sane at the time of the killing. If the jury finds he was insane at that time, he will be sent to a state mental hospital instead of prison.


© 2019 The San Diego Union-Tribune