By Shereen Siewert
The man accused of starting a fire that ripped through a west-side laundromat and flower shop withdrew his earlier so-called “insanity plea” during a hearing Wednesday in Wausau.
Azeez Aleem Hakeem, 33, entered a plea last year of not guilty by reason of mental disease or defect to charges of arson, burglary and bail jumping in connection with the April 2019 fire at Rainbow Coin Laundry in Wausau. But during a scheduled hearing today in Marathon County Circuit Court, Hakeem withdrew his NGI plea.
A court-ordered competency exam was completed in August.
Investigators say Hakeem started the fire after an argument with the laundromat owner, who asked Hakeem to remove his personal effects that were being stored at the business.
Hours after the argument ensued, between 3 a.m. and 3:30 a.m. on Tuesday, April 9, 2019 Hakeem allegedly returned to the laundromat and set fire to the personal property he had been asked to remove from the business. The blaze that followed destroyed both the laundromat, at 210 Clark St., and the adjacent Blossoms & Bows flower shop. Firefighters spent hours battling the blaze and remained on scene more than 24 hours after the fire started.
The building was reduced to rubble.
Police say Hakeem, who has prior convictions for possession of methamphetamine and carrying a concealed knife, admitted he started the blaze.
During Wednesday’s hearing Hakeem’s defense attorney told the judge that Hakeem would plead no contest, though prosecutors said they expected a guilty plea as part of a negotiated agreement. The hearing did not proceed, and a new plea hearing was set for Aug. 3.
Hakeem remains jailed on a $50,000 cash bond.