VISTA —An Iraq war veteran who said he killed a stranger in Oceanside at the behest of a secret agency that controlled his brain was sentenced Tuesday to life in prison without the possibility of parole.
The sentence for Mikhail Schmidt comes less than a month after a Superior Court jury in North County found Schmidt guilty of first-degree murder of Jacob Bravo, a stranger that Schmidt spotted, followed and stabbed to death on March 8, 2017.
Bravo was likely sleeping when he was attacked.
Schmidt, 33, had pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity, meaning he was contending in part that he was unable to understand at the time of the act that what he was doing was morally and legally wrong.
At the start of trial, Schmidt's attorney Brad Patton told the jury that Schmidt, who had served in the Marine Corps, had repeatedly suffered head trauma and was twice knocked unconscious while deployed in Iraq for seven months in 2008.
In 2013, Schmidt, a sniper, was honorably discharged as a staff sergeant. He was subsequently diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder.
It took the jury about five minutes of deliberations to reject his claim of insanity.
At Tuesday's sentencing, Schmidt did not make a statement. But the mother of the victim did, saying her son was funny and full of life, a "spitfire" who "fiercely loved" his family and friends.
"You are being held accountable for your actions," she said, "but my heart is still broken."
Jacob 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 on Windward Way, two blocks from the beach north of the Oceanside Pier.
Mikhail Schmidt (Screenshot via NBC San Diego)
At his trial, Schmidt testified that he had spotted 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."
On Tuesday, Deputy District Attorney Cal Logan, a longtime prosecutor who has handled several murder cases including many gang-related slayings, noted to Judge Harry Elias in court that this case was unique for its motive.
"In other cases, the motive — however juvenile and ridiculous that motive may have been — there was some type of recognizable hate" for the victim or the victim's gang, Logan said.
But that did not exist here, Logan said. The attack on Bravo was "simply a killing for the need and want to kill."
Life in prison, Logan argued, "is the correct, reasonable outcome of this case."
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