Death Penalty Possible in Oklahoma Beheading Trial

NORMAN, Okla. (CN) – An Oklahoma jury Tuesday rejected claims that convicted murderer Alton Nolen is “mentally retarded,” clearing the way for the death penalty as jurors weigh his punishment for beheading a co-worker at a food processing plant in 2014.

During the punishment phase of his trial, the 12-member Cleveland County jury unanimously concluded Nolen is not intellectually disabled. The term “mentally retard” is outdated and considered offensive in contemporary society, but the concept still exists in Oklahoma law.

Nolen’s attorney, Mitch Solomon, told jurors a death sentence “will not do anything to make the pain go away.”

“It was a terrible thing that happened,” Solomon said. “The question always was why it happened.”

Jurors two weeks ago convicted Nolen, 33, of first-degree murder, four counts of assault with a dangerous weapon and one count of assault and battery with a deadly weapon.

Nolen killed Colleen Hufford, 54, at the Vaughn Foods plan in Norman, purportedly in retaliation for being suspended when she complained about racial remarks he made while on an assembly line. Hufford was white; Nolen is black.

The punishment phase has lasted two weeks so far. Jurors have already sentenced him to three life sentences plus 130 years in state prison on the assault and battery charges. Defense attorneys have spent a week questioning Nolen’s mental state, presenting testimony that Nolen scored 69 on an IQ test in 2015.

Jurors were not persuaded by Nolen’s insanity defense during trial. A defense expert medical witness testified she observed Nolen show “numerous indications of mental illness,” that he told her was tempted by the sight of her feet, called her an infidel and “seemed preoccupied with what was going on in his mind.” She testified that he would refer to things in the name of Allah when not appropriate and that there was a history of mental illness in his family.

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