PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) – A man accused of fatally stabbing two people who, according to prosecutors, tried to stop his racist tirade against two young black women on a local train in Portland, Oregon, was released on Friday after an emotional trial convicted of murder for murder by both women and the only survivor of the attack almost three years ago.
The jury found 37-year-old Jeremy Christian guilty of dying from Taliesin Namkai-Meche and Ricky Best. He was also convicted of attempted murder for stabbing survivor Micah Fletcher, and assault and threat because the day before the stabbing on May 26, 2017, he thrown a bottle and thrown a bottle at a black woman on another light rail train would have.
A judge last year dismissed the serious murder charge – which may be sentenced to death – for a new law in Oregon restricting the definition of serious murder.
The racist undertones of the knife stings shook Portland, which prides itself on its liberal and progressive reputation, but also grapples with a racist past, the limits of black family life and such anchored neo-nazi community that the city was once nicknamed “Skinhead City “wore. The deaths also occurred weeks after a black teenager was run down and killed by a white supremacist in a supermarket parking lot in a suburb of Portland – a case that also made headlines.
Photos and videos surfaced in the days after the stabbing, showing that Christian had recently attended and spoken at a rally hosted by a far-right group called Patriot Prayer, whose regular political events were already causing tension in the city. He was caught on camera holding the Nazi salute while wearing an American flag around his neck and holding a baseball bat.
On Facebook, his productive posts viewed Portland as a place that was so politically correct that his right to freedom of expression was constantly under attack. These beliefs were also at the forefront in the courtroom when Christian told the judge on the first day of the trial that he would wear his blue uniform in prison instead of a suit because doing something different would be like lying.
“I don’t care how much time I spend in prison,” he said. “I only care that the public can see and hear what happened on the train.”
According to prosecutors, Christian got on the train during the evening commute on May 26, 2017 and began to insult the two young black women with racist, anti-Muslim and xenophobic insults. One was an immigrant from Somalia and was wearing a Muslim headscarf. Some witnesses said Christian made a cutting movement over his neck in the outbreak and mentioned the beheading of people.
As his tirade continued, Christian grabbed Namkai-Meches cell phone and threw it on the floor. Defense lawyers argued that Namkai-Meche first approached Christian and tried to film the tirade, which made him feel cornered.
According to the authorities, another passenger, Fletcher, got up to intervene and got into a pushing match with Christian, who mocked the men “doing something” to stop him.
Christian then took out a 10-centimeter folding knife and stabbed Fletcher and Namkai-Meche, the prosecutors said. Authorities say he also stabbed a third passenger, Ricky Best, who was nearby. Namkai-Meche and Best died of stab wounds on the neck. Fletcher was seriously injured but survived.
Christian stabbed the men 11 times in 11 seconds. He later told a court-appointed psychologist during the mental health assessment that he felt he was an “autopilot,” according to court records.
He was arrested a few blocks away.
Christian’s defenders, Gregory Scholl and Dean Smith, argued that Christian had defended himself and felt threatened by Namkai-Meche and Fletcher. A defense expert testified that Fletcher in particular escalated the situation by moving away from Christian moments within 2 meters before Christian pulled out his knife.
During the trial, detective Michelle Michaels read a copy of Christian’s comments shortly after his arrest.
“There is no way I can explain what happened,” he said. “Except that these two people would be alive if they kept their hands to themselves. Or got off the train or allowed me to be free to speak.”