PENN YAN — The attorneys in the Paul Khouzam murder case agree — somewhat — that mental illness played a role in the attack on his mother more than three years ago.
Where they differ, however, is how much of a role it played.
“I don’t want to indict the treatment of mental health in this country, but it’s not the greatest,” said Khouzam’s attorney, Bob Zimmerman, Tuesday in Yates County Court. “The system failed Mr. Khouzam here.”
“He has been given chance after chance to deal with his mental health issues ... but he doesn’t comply with treatment,” District Attorney Todd Casella countered. “This defendant has a dangerous, anti-social personality. That is just who he is.”
Minutes later, county Judge Jason Cook sentenced Khouzam to 24 years-to-life in prison for second-degree murder in the 2018 death of his mother, Dr. Magda Daoud.
While it was one year shy of the maximum sentence, Cook also sentenced Khouzam — he was on probation at the time of the crime for a Schuyler County offense — to an additional 1-to-4 years in prison for violating terms of his probation.
Khouzam, now 40, was arrested by sheriff’s deputies on the morning of Aug. 6, 2018, on Arrowhead Beach Road in Torrey, less than three hours after he had attacked his 67-year-old mother.
On the evening before the crime, Khouzam was arrested by deputies at his home in Branchport as a mentally ill person, classified as a danger to himself and/or others. He was taken to the mental health unit at Soldiers & Sailors Memorial Hospital in Penn Yan, but he was released later that night and returned to his home.
Khouzam later drove to his mother’s house, leading to what Casella called a “violent and unprovoked” attack. Casella said after Khouzam broke into the house, he found his mother hiding in a bedroom and chased her into the kitchen, where he hit her with a hammer and stabbed with her with a kitchen knife.
“He left her struggling to survive on the kitchen floor, then went home,” Casella said. “He returned later and put a tarp over her.”
The sheriff’s office received a call on the incident just before 6 a.m. and deputies arrived on the scene minutes later to find Khouzam walking on Arrowhead Beach Road, where police said he first confessed to the crime.
Deputies went to Daoud’s home and found her unconscious and bleeding. She was taken to Strong Memorial Hospital in Rochester and died about two months later at a Monroe County hospice facility.
Khouzam pleaded guilty to the murder charge earlier this year in satisfaction of other charges he faced, including burglary, criminal possession of a weapon, and cruelty to animals. Deputies also found Daoud’s dog dead in the home.
Khouzam was incarcerated at the county jail for about eight months after his arrest. He was admitted to the Rochester Psychiatric Center in April 2019 after two psychiatrists deemed him an “incapacitated person,” but released from the facility in October 2019 after a doctor determined he was competent to stand trial.
However, the case was delayed numerous times due to the Covid-19 pandemic. Zimmerman had planned to use a temporary insanity defense at the trial.
“Since day one, my client wishes this never happened but he can’t take it back. He was delusional at the time,” Zimmerman told Cook. “If treated properly, we would not be here today. To paint him as dangerous and anti-social is a bit over the top. He knows he needs structure and medication to live a halfway decent life.”
“He has accepted responsibility and is ready to be sentenced. He simply wants to pay his debt to his family and the community,” Zimmerman added. “Someday, he hopes to be free of the mental health issues that played a significant role in this incident, and his criminal behavior.”
Khouzam simply said “No” when Cook asked him if he wanted to make a statement.
Casella said Khouzam was arrested numerous times before the 2018 incident, spending some time in jail and being placed on probation five times. Casella added that family members sent letters that Cook read, but those letters were not read in court.
“Your actions devastated your family for the rest of their lives,” Cook said. “The brutality of the murder is beyond words to adequately describe.”