PORTLAND, Ore. (CN) – Attorneys argued Wednesday over whether a man who punctuated a racist rant on a crowded commuter train by stabbing three unarmed men did so in self-defense.
The night before the May 26, 2017, killings, Jeremy Christian threatened to kill a black woman riding the same train. Police were summoned but Christian wasn’t arrested that night.
“I’m a Nazi,” Christian yelled. “Fuck all of you. You can’t talk to me like that bitch. I’ll fuck you up.”
Demetria Hester, a restaurant worker on her way home, told him to shut up.
“Fuck you, bitch,” Christian said. “I’ll kill you.”
Hester got off the train and Christian followed her.
“You’re going to get it now, bitch,” Christian said.
She pepper-sprayed him and he threw a full bottle of Gatorade at her eye.
But a Portland police officer arrived, having been warned of an altercation on board. While the cop interviewed Hester, Christian walked away.
“’I’m about to stab some motherfuckers,’” prosecutor Jeff Howes told the jury. “That’s what the defendant said.”
Seventeen hours later, Christian was back on the train, again spewing hate and making slicing motions across his neck with his fingers. By 4:32 that sunny Friday afternoon, Christian was swinging a knife. It took him 11 seconds to deal fatal wounds to Ricky Best, a 53-year-old father of four and Taliesin Namkai-Meche, a recent graduate of Reed College. Micah Fletcher, then 21, survived a sliced jugular.
Howes described the killings in grisly detail during opening statements.
Afterward, witnesses followed Christian as he walked away from the train. They testified that he rinsed his bloody knife, his hands and arms with a can of soda pop. And he changed his appearance, taking off his shirt and tying his hair back.
Alan Hall, a former marine, testified that he followed Christian after the stabbings.
“What?” Christian yelled at Hall. “Are you a fucking snitch? You want some of this? Am I going to have to do to you what I did to those guys on the train?”
To a passing kid on a skateboard, Christian yelled, “Are you following me too?”
Later, Christian sat handcuffed in the back of a police car. He yelled continuously, swaying under a spit hood.
“I’m happy as a motherfucker,” he said on camera. “Hopefully these motherfuckers die. Especially that motherfucker who put his fucking hands on me with that motherfucking punk ass Deadpool T-shirt. You ain’t gonna heal bitch. You gonna die.”
Referring to Hester, he added: “I’d have stabbed her too if the fare inspector hadn’t been there.”
Howes told the jury Wednesday that it is indisputable that Christian is guilty of the 10 charges against him, including two counts of first-degree murder, attempted murder, assault, intimidation and menacing. Christian pleaded not guilty.
“The evidence in this case is overwhelming,” Howes said. “It’s insurmountable. The facts are that he assaulted Demetria Hester the night before, he said he was going to stab some motherfuckers and the next day, he did exactly that. Stabbed some people on the train.”
Christian’s defense attorney, Greg Scholl, didn’t dispute that Christian had stabbed three men. But he claimed Christian was trying to defend himself against Fletcher, who shoved Christian during his racist tirade, told him to get off the train and later told police he regretted not “going harder.”
“Does Mr. Fletcher have the right to do that?” Scholl asked. “The answer is no. He doesn’t have the right to push someone off the train if he doesn’t agree with his speech. I guess that type of vigilantism is somehow sacrosanct. That you’re allowed to shove someone off the train and maybe go harder, knock their ass out.”
Scholl accused prosecutors of “careless exaggeration,” saying they inflated the number of stab wounds from eight to 11, as well as the number of fights involving Christian while serving time for robbing a convenience store.
Scholl pointed to inconsistencies among the dozens of witnesses about what Christian had said on the train during the minutes that weren’t filmed by passengers. And he said that while prosecutors presented a “mountain slide” of evidence about what had happened, they said little about why Christian had done what he had done.
“Jeff Howes said he killed Rick Best, so he committed murder,” Scholl told the jury. “And he stabbed Micah Fletcher, so he committed attempted murder. As if that is all there is to it. But as to intent the state’s case begins to run dry. His motivation was to defend himself. That’s why he’s not guilty.”
But Howes said self defense doesn’t apply. Under Oregon law, a person can only use deadly physical force to defend themselves when they “reasonably believe” someone is trying to commit a felony against them or is trying to kill them.
“I’ll tell you how a reasonable person would not react,” Howes said. “They would not stab three people in the neck with a knife. There is no justification that could possibly lead a reasonable person to believe that there was a justification for that.”
The case now goes to the jury.