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War veteran who said nanobots compelled him to kill stranger found legally sane

A gavel. (TNS/Released)

It took a North County jury about five minutes to find that an Iraq war veteran was legally sane when he killed a stranger in 2017, rejecting his testimony that he believed that a secret agency had injected nanobots into his brain and compelled him to target the victim.

Mikhail Schmidt, 33, faces the potential of life in prison without parole when he is sentenced next month. A former Marine, he had been living in Oceanside at the time of the killing.

Last week, a North County jury found Schmidt guilty of first-degree murder in the stabbing death of Jacob Bravo, a stranger that Schmidt spotted, followed and later attacked in March 2017. The jury also found true a special-circumstance allegation that Schmidt had been laying in wait.

Schmit had pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity, meaning — in part — that he was unable to understand at the time of the act that what he was doing was morally and legally wrong.

The jury’s verdict last week that he was guilty of murder prompted a second phase of trial, where the jury had to decide whether Schmidt was legally insane at the time of the killing.

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On Monday afternoon, after hearing from witnesses, the panel convened to deliberate the sanity issue. A little more than five minutes later, they announced they had reached a verdict.

Deputy District Attorney Cal Logan said in an email that he is “very happy about not only the verdicts but the message I hope they send to the defendant. And while Mr. Bravo’s family can find some solace in the outcome, I know it does very little to heal the wounds in their heart.”

Bravo, a 37-year-old plumber, lived in San Bernardino County but on weeknights had been staying in a trailer at the residential construction site where he had been working in Oceanside. The site was Windward Way, two blocks from the beach north of the city’s pier.

During the trial, Schmidt testified about the killing, telling the jury that he saw a drunken Bravo walking back to the construction site on the evening of March 8, 2017. Schmidt told the jury 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 testified he does not specifically remember the killing, saying it had been more like a dream. Authorities said he slipped into the trailer and stabbed the sleeping stranger, twice in the kidney and once in the neck.

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At the start of trial, Schmidt’s attorney, Brad Patton, told the jury that Schmidt had repeatedly suffered head trauma and was twice knocked unconscious while deployed in Iraq for seven months in 2008.

In 2013, Schmidt was honorably discharged as a staff sergeant. He was subsequently diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder.

At the start of the trial earlier this month, the prosecutor 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.”

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© 2019 The San Diego Union-Tribune