Stress From 9-11 Attacks Made NY Man a Killer, Says Lawyer

By Jeff McKay | July 7, 2008 | 8:20pm EDT

( - A Long Island, New York man, who allegedly murdered his business partner after an argument over money, says stress from the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks made him do it.

Nathan Powell flew into a rage on Oct. 3, according to his lawyer, after first witnessing the collapse of the World Trade Center and later hearing his partner, Jawed Wassel, express sympathy for the Taliban.

Prosecutors have a different story. They say Powell became enraged after Wassel scaled back Powell's share of profits from a movie. They say Powell beat Wassel with a pool cue stick, stabbed him to death and then used a hacksaw to dismember the body. Police arrested Powell after they found body parts in a cardboard box in his rented van.

Defense attorney Thomas Liotti, who will mount the post-traumatic stress disorder defense on behalf of Powell, calls his client "a patriot."

A Nassau County grand jury recently indicted Powell, charging him with two counts of second-degree murder, including one count of intentional murder and one of depraved indifference. He faces up to 25 years to life in prison if convicted.

The 9-11 Defense

While statements made by Powell and released by Nassau County Police claim an argument over money led to the fight and death of Wassel, Liotti says his client's mental state threw him over the edge.

"My client was schizophrenic and suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder following the attacks," Liotti said.

"We believe we have a viable post-traumatic stress disorder defense," said Liotti. "My client was able to see the World Trade Center tragedy from his Long Island City apartment."

Liotti is also attempting to portray Wassel, a native of Afghanistan, as sympathetic to the Taliban.

Court records indicate Wassel and Powell met in 1990 while both were students at Hunter College in Manhattan. Together, they formed Silkroad Pictures, a moviemaking company.

They put together a movie project called "Firedancer," Wassel's autobiographical story of an Afghan youth who eventually leaves his village and settles in New York.

Wassel and his family left Afghanistan after the Soviet invasion of 1979, living in Pakistan, Germany, and France before coming to New York.

Powell allegedly was able to raise the capital for the movie production, approximately several hundred thousand dollars through private investors, and apparently believed he would receive 30 percent of the profits. The argument over the profits occurred after Wassel allegedly told Powell his cut would only be 10 percent.

In the released statement made by Powell after his arrest, there was no mention of the events of Sept. 11 or the Taliban, according to prosecutors.

Powell even claimed that "Our relationship had deteriorated but I had to stay around him or I wouldn't get my money."

Police Not Buying 9-11 Defense

Nassau County District Attorney Fred Klein blasted Liotti's defense claim, saying it was shameful to use the tragedy of Sept. 11 as an excuse for murder.

"That's an insult to people who lost loved ones and friends to this tragedy," said Klein. "His statement to police clearly shows the motive was money, not politics."

Powell is being held without bail in Nassau County jail. He is scheduled to return to court Feb. 15 for a hearing.

E-mail a news tip to Jeff McKay.

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