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Accused baby killer may never see trial due to mental illness, judge rules

Philadelphia Inquirer - 5/4/2021

May 5—In the waning summer heat of August 2013, police from Upper Darby spent a week frantically searching for the body of a missing infant. Working with cadaver dogs, helicopters and officers borrowed from other departments, they scoured the borough, then widened their search to rural York County, where the suspect in the disappearance lived.

The seven-month-old baby, Hazma Ali, was never found. His mother's boyfriend, Ummad Rushdi, confessed that he shook the child to death and hid the body in an undisclosed location, court records show.

Eight years later, long removed from blaring headlines about the search, the murder case against Rushdi has effectively ended. A Delaware County judge recently declared the 38-year-old incompetent to stand trial due to mental illness.

Upper Darby police: Accused kidnapper now accused murderer

At a hearing before Delaware County Court Judge Anthony Scanlon last month, a panel of doctors from Norristown State Hospital said Rushdi's mental illness was not improving, and made him unable to participate in a trial or accept a plea deal from prosecutors.

Rushdi was admitted to the hospital in 2018, when a court-appointed psychologist ruled him incompetent to stand trial after five years in the county jail. Between 2018 and 2020, staff at Norristown's forensic unit treated him with medication — also court ordered — and found that his condition did not change.

Hunt for kidnapped infant's body to end

Dr. Jared Moore, one of the psychologists who treated Rushdi at the hospital, testified that Rushdi believes he had "a passive role" in the abduction and murder. He suffers from paranormal and supernatural delusions and believes that the "devil is trying to using the system to break him down," according to Moore.

Moore said the best course for Rushdi would be to stay in Norristown State Hospital. If he were released, Moore said, he would most likely refuse to take his medication, he said, and would pose a threat to the community.

Assistant District Attorney Stephanie Wells, the lead prosecutor on the case, agreed and told Scanlon that though the criminal case against Rushdi will remain active, should his condition improve, Norristown State Hospital is the best, safest place for him to be.

"If he entered into another intimate relationship, there's a risk he'd do the same thing he did in 2013," Wells said in court.

Rushdi was visiting his parents at a home they owned near the 69th Street business corridor in the summer of 2013 with his girlfriend, Zainab Gaal, when police say he abducted her infant son.

Rushdi's relatives told police hedisliked the child and felt that he was straining his relationship with Gaal. On August 4, 2013, police said, Rushdi abducted the baby and fled to York County, where he was living at the time.

He was arrested four days later. Rushdi's brother, Jawwad, told detectives Rushdi said he shook the baby to death in an attempt to stop him from crying, according to court records. Rushdi also told his brother he later gave the boy a "proper Muslim burial" somewhere in York County.

Attempts to reach Jawwad Rushdi and Gaal were unsuccessful.

Judge: Murder trial can proceed without baby's body

The baby's body was never found. Retired Upper Darby Police Superintendent Michael Chitwood, who oversaw the search for Rushdi in 2013, said in a recent interview that Gaal was "scared to death" of Rushdi, who had been physically abusive to her.

Chitwood said news of the case's effective conclusion didn't surprise him — Rushdi's mental health issues were apparent almost immediately. But he still expressed frustration over the child's disapperance.

"To this day, there's no doubt in my mind that he knows where that baby is," Chitwood said. "And he's the only one who could tell us."


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