NEW YORK -- The Texas used-car dealer who pleaded guilty in a bizarre plot to assassinate the Saudi Arabian ambassador to the United States was described in federal court as sad, scattered and bipolar by a psychiatrist testifying for his defense on Wednesday.
That pre-sentencing testimony came after Mexican drug cartel member Manssor Arbabsiar's sentencing date was pushed back yet again, to May 30.
His hair graying and jaw moving restlessly, Arbabsiar did not speak throughout the hearing. But his public defender, Sabrina Shroff, attempted to paint a picture of a man diminished by depression and disorganization, who deserves 10 years in prison instead of the 25 the government seeks for his part in a wild conspiracy to blow up a Washington, D.C., restaurant with the ambassador inside.
The scheme, which Attorney General Eric Holder linked to the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps of Iran, was described as "strange" and "amateur" when details were first made public. The plan was never close to being carried out; the person to whom Arbabsiar offered $1.5 million to carry out the assassination was actually a Drug Enforcement Agency informant.
There was a good reason why Arbabsiar might have agreed to take part in such a harebrained plot, Columbia University professor of clinical psychiatry Michael First testified on Wednesday: He is bipolar.
Arbabsiar had been living at his wife's home, spending most of his time in bed and chain-smoking, First said. Depressed over a friend's death and his failing car-sales business, the naturalized U.S. citizen decided to spend more time in his native Iran. There, in 2011, he met up with a cousin at a party, an alleged member of the Guards Corps, who invited him to take part in the plot.
First said, based on interviews with Arbabsiar, and his wife and son, that meeting took place "in the context of severe depression."
"It was in the context of, 'I'm offering you something important that's going to turn your life around,'" First said.
First, who edited the current version the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, the "bible" of the psychiatric profession, said he has diagnosed Arbabsiar with bipolar II, a less severe version of the disorder that does not involve full-blown manic episodes.
On cross-examination, government lawyers sought to downplay the severity of Arbabsiar's mental problems. Assistant U.S. Attorney Stephen Ritchin argued that First changed his diagnosis of Arbabsiar between July 2012 and April 2013, downgrading it from a full-blown bipolar disorder. Ritchin also pointed out that Arbabsiar was able to discuss details of the plot in recorded calls with the government informant.
Elissa Miller, a psychologist overseeing his treatment at the Metropolitan Correctional Center in Manhattan, testified for the government that Arbabsiar has only been diagnosed with lesser mood, adjustment and anxiety disorders. But Miller did acknowledge that a prison doctor prescribed him Risperdal, a drug the Food and Drug Administration says is only for treating schizophrenia and bipolar disorder.
U.S. District Judge John F. Keenan interrupted First and Arbabsiar's public defender several times during Wednesday's testimony. At one point, he reminded the courtroom that Arbabsiar had admitted to having little concern for innocent restaurant-goers who might have died along with the ambassador.