NORMAN, Okla. (CN) — An attorney acknowledged during opening arguments Thursday that her client beheaded a co-worker at an Oklahoma food-processing plant, but told jurors that Alton Nolen was insane when he did it, and “thought what he was doing was right.”
Nolen, 32, is charged with the first-degree murder of Colleen Hufford in September 2014, at a Vaughn Foods plant in Norman. The killing made national headlines because, aside from its gruesome nature, Nolen, who is black, had converted to Islam, and Hufford, 54, was a white woman.
Attorney Shea Smith, with the Oklahoma Indigent Defense System, asked jurors on Thursday to find Nolen not guilty by reason of insanity.
Prosecutors firmly disagreed, saying Nolen killed Hufford by sawing at her neck with a “large bladed knife.”
Nolen then allegedly went after Traci J. Johnson, 46, cutting her throat and face before a company executive shot him. Nolen allegedly attacked after Johnson complained that he did not like white people.
Prosecutors say Nolen drove home to get the knife after being suspended, and returned to work, and that his now-deleted Facebook page showed images of beheadings and Osama bin Laden.
Cleveland County District Attorney Greg Mashburn told the jury Hufford was “brutally and ferociously” killed, and he described details of the killing.
Mashburn said Nolen had told Johnson: “I beat Caucasians” during an argument.
Nolen also is charged with assault and battery with a deadly weapon and assault with a deadly weapon. He faces the death penalty if convicted of first-degree murder.
He wore his prison jumpsuit in court and was seen covering his ears with his hands and closing his eyes during jury selection in the morning, KWTV reported.
The case has been mired in the courts for three years as state District Judge Lori Walkley sought to determine Nolen’s competency to stand trial. Walkley ordered a competency hearing two years ago, where psychologist Jeanne Russell testified that Nolen wants to plead guilty and be executed because of his religious beliefs. She said he had a “major deficit” in his “intellectual functioning” that she observed during seven hours of interviews.
Walkley questioned Nolen for 90 minutes on the stand in May 2016 when he tried to enter a guilty plea, trying to determine if he understood he was waiving his right to a trial. He responded with rambling answers about his Islamic faith, saying events of his life were pre-determined. He stopped his testimony at one point to pray.
During a subsequent competency hearing in April this year, security officers removed Nolen from the courtroom for causing a disturbance.