Ex-Maharishi student not guilty of murder by insanity

Des Moines Register/June 7, 2005
By Erin Jordan

Fairfield, Iowa. — A former Maharishi University of Management student will be found not guilty of first-degree murder by reason of insanity if a Jefferson County judge agrees with prosecution and defense attorneys.

Shuvender Sem, 25, a diagnosed schizophrenic, had been off his medication for months when he stabbed Levi Butler, 18, in the chest on March 1, 2004, in front of dozens of students in the M.U.M. campus dining hall, said Virginia Barchman, asst. attorney general.

"Mr. Sem is a person who suffers from an extremely dangerous mental illness," she said. "We ask the court to find this young man not guilty by reason of insanity."

In an unusual move, Barchman and defense attorney Alfredo Parrish submitted notebooks of psychiatric reports and depositions instead of arguing the case, scheduled for trial today in Jefferson County.

They asked District Judge Richard Meadows to decide whether Sem is guilty based on the stipulated evidence, of which attorneys said they are in basic agreement.

Parrish said he recommended Sem waive his right to a jury trial because juries often don't understand mental illness and might not acquit his client, even though several psychiatrists agree Sem was insane at the time of the stabbing.

Sem is charged with first-degree murder and assault with intent to commit serious injury. He is accused of stabbing Levi Butler, a first-year M.U.M. student from California, in the chest with a paring knife and stabbing another student in the cheek with a ballpoint pen.

Sem told Meadows that he understood the court proceedings, despite a "cloud" that hangs in his mind because of his medications. Sem's parents, who have come from Pennsylvania for regular visits with their son at the Jefferson County Jail and Oakdale Medical and Classification Center in Coralville, sat quietly behind Sem in the courtroom.

Meadows said he hopes to issue a written within two weeks.

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