A mentally ill man believed he was fighting a werewolf to avoid a collision between the Earth and the moon when he killed a stranger in Old Town Alexandria, Va., last July, according to trial testimony.
Bradford Jackson, 65, was working in a window store on King Street the afternoon of July 13 when Pankaj Bhasin entered. Bhasin later told authorities Jackson asked what he was doing there, and they began to fight.
Bhasin, 34, told doctors after the attack that he believed Jackson began turning into a werewolf. “I killed the wolf,” he told police at one point, according to court records. He said there was “still time to save 99 percent of the moon and planets.”
An Alexandria Circuit Court judge on Wednesday declared a mistrial in the case after a jury deadlocked, unable to decide whether Bhasin was guilty of murder or not guilty by reason of insanity. Commonwealth’s Attorney Bryan Porter said his office will decide next week whether to put Bhasin on trial again.
Jackson, who had moved to the area from Michigan three decades earlier to raise his son, was well-known in the Old Town neighborhood.
Five doctors separately diagnosed Bhasin with bipolar 1 disorder, and defense attorney Peter Greenspun argued at trial that Bhasin’s mental illness made him unable to understand his own actions that day. Prosecutor David Lord did not dispute the medical consensus but contended that Bhasin exaggerated his symptoms to cover up an intentional and horrific crime.
A few hours before the attack, after driving all night from New Jersey, Bhasin showed up at the Four Seasons Hotel in Georgetown carrying a can of gasoline and demanding a room. When he was asked to leave, he told a hotel worker, “90 percent, if I die, everybody dies. . . . There’s still time to save everyone.” He added, according to testimony, “Today is going to be a bad day.”
He then drove through Rosslyn and eventually to Alexandria, where he later told psychiatrists he stopped in an alley to investigate some boxes he believed held human DNA. He followed Jackson into the building in front of the alley, later saying he thought the shop worker might know something about the boxes.
When Jackson confronted Bhasin, the younger man beat him so badly that Jackson suffered broken bones, according to trial testimony. Bhasin stabbed Jackson 53 times with a box cutter and gouged out his eyes, according to testimony.
Bhasin left the building covered in blood, naked from the waist down, and entered the back seat of a Mercedes-Benz car parked in front of the store. The woman and her daughter sitting in the front of the car fled, and Bhasin moved to the driver’s seat, reclining and closing his eyes. He stayed there until police arrived.
The attack was “extreme,” Greenspun told jurors, because Bhasin’s mental illness was extreme as well.
“It’s a very clear case of classical bipolar disorder,” psychiatrist Michael Knable testified. “Unusual severity, but classic presentation.”
Lord asked why Bhasin’s memory of the attack was fuzzy when his recollection of the events leading up to his arrival at the store was fairly clear.
“Intelligent people like the defendant know what to say to mental-health professionals,” Lord said in closing arguments.
After the attack, he emphasized, Bhasin showed awareness of his actions, telling a detective, “Clearly I’m going to jail for something. I’ve done this. I’ve got to have penance.”
Bhasin was a successful, gregarious and kind person up until last spring, friends and family members testified. He was living in Washington and working as a risk analyst before leaving his job to travel the world; he returned home to New Jersey about eight months before the attack to help take care of his sick father.
It was not until a few months before Jackson’s death that Bhasin began exhibiting psychotic behavior, according to testimony. He would drink urine and gasoline, saying that doing so would save the world. He at times thought he was Yama, a Hindu god of death. He attacked his parents, saying that they were trying to poison him and that he had to kill them so he could take them to heaven, and they called the police and he was hospitalized.
He was released from a New Jersey mental hospital after six days, on June 28, but quickly deteriorated and then disappeared.
The day before the attack, Bhasin called home from Delaware. His parents were unable to find him; they went to the local police and a lookout was issued.
The next call the family got was from police in Alexandria, telling them their son was in custody.
This was a “very, very mentally ill man,” Greenspun said, “in conflict with a very nice and productive and meaningful person in the community,” because of “the frailties of the very complicated human mind.”
In a statement after the jury deadlocked, he said, “We will continue to pursue a finding of not guilty by reason of insanity allowing him to get the help he so clearly needs in a secure state mental health facility.”