Joseph Czuba pleads not guilty in stabbing of 6-year-old Palestinian American boy

Joseph Czuba pleads not guilty in stabbing of 6-year-old Palestinian American boy

Cybele Mayes-Osterman
¬†USA TODAYplayShow CaptionHide Caption#videoDetailsToggle{color:var( –color-dove-gray,rgba(0,0,0,.6));cursor:pointer;display:inline-block;font-family:var(–sans-serif,sans-serif);font-size:var(–type-7);font-weight:var( –font-weight-bold,900);line-height:var(–spacer-twentyfour,24px);margin-bottom:-8px}#vdt_hide{margin-bottom:10px}.vdt-flex[hidden]{display:none}.vdt-svg{fill:var( –color-dove-gray,rgba(0,0,0,.6));height:var(–spacer-twentyfour,24px);width:var(–spacer-twentyfour,24px)}Illinois man pleads not guilty to hate crime and murder chargesA man accused of murder, attempted murder and a hate crime in an attack on a Palestinian-American woman and her young son pleaded not guilty Monday.Fox – 32 Chicago

An Illinois landlord accused of stabbing a Palestinian American 6-year-old boy 26 times pleaded not guilty in court on Monday morning.

Prosecutors say Joseph Czuba, 71, was motivated by his “hatred of Muslims” when he fatally stabbed Wadea Al-Fayoume and seriously injured his mother on Oct. 14. Federal authorities, meanwhile, are also investigating Wadea’s death and his mother Hanaan Shahin’s stabbing as a hate crime.

Czuba faces charges of first-degree murder, attempted first-degree murder, aggravated battery with a deadly weapon, and two counts of hate crime after a grand jury indicted him last week. He remains in jail without bail.

On Monday, he appeared in court wearing a red jail uniform, socks and slippers.

“We entered a plea of not guilty to all 8 counts. We are in the process of conducting our own investigation,” Czuba’s attorney George Lenard told USA TODAY after the court proceeding. “He’s presumed to be innocent of all the charges, and our job is to make sure that all his constitutional rights are protected and ultimately he receives a fair trial and an impartial jury.”

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Will County deputies found Wadea and his mother, 32-year-old Shahin, suffering from severe stab wounds in the two rooms she rented from Czuba in a Plainfield Township residence, around 40 miles outside of Chicago, according to the Will County Sheriff’s Office. Both victims were transported to a hospital where Wadea later died. Shahin survived the attack and told authorities what led to it.

Wadea was found lying on a bed with multiple stab wounds in his chest and a 12-inch serrated military knife in his stomach, according to the sheriff’s office. Deputies found Czuba in the backyard with several pocket knives and wearing a knife holster.

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Mother told Czuba to ‘pray for peace’

Shahin told authorities Czuba angrily confronted her about the Israel-Hamas war shortly before the attack, according to court documents obtained by USA TODAY.

When Shahin told Czuba to “pray for peace,” he attacked her with a knife, she said. She managed to flee to the bathroom and lock the door, but was unable to take Wadea with her.

Czuba’s wife, Mary Czuba, said he fixated on recent events in Israel and Palestine in the time leading up to the stabbing, according to court documents. She said her husband told her he wanted Shahin to move out, expressing fear that his tenant would “call over her Palestinian friends or family to harm them.”

She said Czuba regularly listened to “conservative talk radio” and had withdrawn $1,000 from a bank account “in case the U.S. grid went down.”

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Federal hate crimes investigation opened

U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland announced that the Department of Justice had opened a federal hate crimes investigation into the attack, according to an Oct. 15 statement. “This incident cannot help but further raise the fears of Muslim, Arab, and Palestinian communities in our country with regard to hate-fueled violence,” Garland said.

Wadea was born in the U.S. after his mother immigrated from the Palestinian West Bank nine years ago, Ahmed Rehab, executive director of the Chicago chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, said at a press conference alongside Wadea’s uncle Mahmood Yosif on Oct. 15. The family rented the rooms from Czuba for two years.

“We are not only completely heartbroken and devastated by what happened, we are afraid of what may happen more in the future,” Rehab said. “We are afraid in this atmosphere that is being fanned, the flames of hatred and otherization and dehumanization.”

According to the organization, Shahin’s “injuries are healing. She is fully functional but tired. She said that her doctors were stunned by the speed of her recovery despite the brutality of the attack and that she credits that to ‘God hearing the prayers of people out there.'”

She described Wadea as an “angel on Earth,” who “is now an angel in heaven,” the organization wrote in an update.

“He was my best friend,” she said.

Contributing: Associated Press

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