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D.C. Student Convicted in Killings

May 21, 2002

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WASHINGTON (AP) _ A 22-year-old student who claimed images of black-gloved hands ordered him to do evil things was convicted Tuesday of murdering two classmates at Gallaudet University.

Joseph Mesa Jr., a hearing-impaired native of Guam, was found guilty after a D.C. Superior Court jury deliberated barely three hours. A sign language interpreter translated for him as the jury foreman read guilty verdicts on each of the 15 counts.

Mesa and the two victims had been classmates at Gallaudet, the nation’s premiere college for the hearing-impaired. Eric Plunkett, 19, of Burnsville, Minn., was killed in his dormitory room in September 2000. The body of Benjamin Varner, 19, of San Antonio, was found in his dorm room in February 2001.

Prosecutors said Mesa beat Plunkett to death and used a paring knife to repeatedly stab Varner. He then robbed both men, using their credit cards to go on a spending spree.

Mesa, pleading insanity, testified about a pair of ``black hands″ that told him to do evil things. He also said he was distanced from his family while growing up, because they did not know sign language.

The prosecution countered with a videotaped confession from Mesa describing the killings.

Mesa will be sentenced July 10 and faces the possibility of life in prison without parole.

Relatives of Plunkett and Varner were in the courtroom as the verdicts were read and later shook hands with prosecutors.

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