NORMAN, Okla. (CN) – An Oklahoma jury deliberated for over an hour Friday before convicting Alton Nolen of murder in the 2014 beheading of a co-worker at a food-processing plant.
A 12-member Cleveland County jury soundly rejected Nolen’s insanity defense after three weeks of trial, convicting him of one count of first-degree murder, four counts of assault with a dangerous weapon and one count of assault and battery with a deadly weapon. The punishment phase begins Monday. Nolen, 33, faces the death penalty.
The attack drew national attention because of its gruesome nature and because Nolen, a black Muslim convert, killed a white woman, Colleen Hufford, 54, at the Vaughn Foods plant in Norman. Nolen purportedly killed her in retaliation for being suspended when she complained about racial remarks he made while on an assembly line.
Nolen’s subsequent attack on another white female employee was stopped when he was shot by a company executive. Nolen later calmly admitted to the attacks in investigator records played for the jury last week.
Hufford’s family said it is thankful to the jury for its verdict.
“All of us now hope for a swift sentencing process concluding with the death penalty for this killer,” the family said in a statement. “None of this will ever bring my mother back to us, but there is a greater sense of closure as justice continues to be administered and our family embraces the healing process.”
Nolen’s attorneys unsuccessfully argued during closing arguments that Nolen’s mental illness caused him to misinterpret Islamic teachings. They reminded jurors that Nolen said he thought he was doing the right thing by killing Hufford.
Court-appointed defense attorney Shea Smith told jurors Nolen made up a religion in his own mind that had conflicting beliefs, and that he thought he was given special abilities by Allah, The Oklahoman newspaper reported.
A defense expert medical witness testified this week that she observed Nolen showing “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 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.
Cleveland County District Attorney Greg Mashburn flatly rejected the insanity defense, telling jurors during closing arguments that “you don’t even have to listen” to the doctors to determine Nolen is not insane.
“Why did he want to plead guilty if he thought that he was doing the right thing?” Mashburn asked. “Why would he be willing to take the death penalty?”