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Prosecutors Challenge Self-Defense, Mental Disorder Arguments In Christian Trial

The Big Picture

Jeremy Christian is accused of killing two people and injuring a third in a stabbing attack on a MAX light rail train in Portland in May 2017. 

Last week, witnesses testified that Christian was shouting racist comments while two black teenage girls — Walia Mohamed and Destinee Mangum — were nearby on the train. Mohamed is Muslim and was wearing a hijab. 

Christian faces intimidation charges in regards to the two girls.

Christian is also accused of harassing and assaulting Demetria Hester, an African American woman, on another MAX train the day prior.

He faces a dozen felony and misdemeanor charges, including multiple counts of first-degree murder and intimidation.

The Highlights (What Happened Thursday)

The prosecution began its rebuttal case Thursday in an effort to refocus jurors on reasons it believes Christian should be found guilty of the charges he’s facing. The rebuttal included some new evidence, including additional video of Christian before the MAX train stabbings.

Prosecutors called Portland Police Bureau Detective Michele Michaels, who originally testified for the state last week. 

The prosecution had Michaels go through specific parts of the case she had investigated, looking to discredit parts of the defense’s case — specifically that Christian was acting in self-defense and that a mental illness or disorder may have affected his actions.

Michaels went over some of Christian’s social media posts she had reviewed in her investigation.

Some of Christian’s Facebook posts read: “No Jews are good people. Zionists are not good people or Jews … I’ll shank a Zionist eyeball out.”

Another read: “May all the gods bless Timothy McVeigh, a true patriot.” McVeigh is the man who perpetrated the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing.

The majority of his posts focused on practicing free speech and his actions at local political rallies.

In his cross-examination of Michaels, one of Christian’s defense attorneys Dean Smith, asked Michaels to review other social media posts that Christian had shared. Those posts showed his support for Bernie Sanders and universal health care among other topics.   

The court and jury also listened to a phone call Christian made from jail to his mother, talking about his extensive comic book collection and which of those books his mother should sell.

Christian’s comic book collection has been brought up multiple times throughout the trial. In the defense’s case, a forensic psychologist said Christian’s interest in comics could be part of his diagnosis of autism spectrum disorder. The prosecution has said it’s shown that he was well-versed in the business practice of buying and selling books to supplement his income.

The court was then shown a video taken of Christian following his altercation with Demetria Hester, the woman Christian allegedly assaulted the night before the MAX stabbing.

In the video, Christian is on another MAX train after the alleged assault, continuing to rant.

He says things like: “I’m about to stab some motherfuckers. Call the police. I dare you.”

Jeff Howes, first assistant to the district attorney, noted that the video took place about 16 hours before the MAX stabbings.

The court also revisited a video of Christian making statements from the back of a police car after his arrest following the MAX stabbings.

During his statements in the car, which varied from more ranting about Muslims, Christians and monotheist religions, to free speech and other topics, he stopped briefly to comment on a vehicle in front of the police car with a bumper sticker that read “blessed be.”

“Blessed be, give them a ticket,” Christian said about the car’s driver.

Howes asked Michaels about Christian’s ability to visually process information — something one of the defense’s expert witnesses, a psychologist, said Christian had difficulty with.

“He’s perfectly able to do it,” Michaels said.

Some of the defense’s expert witnesses, psychologists and forensic psychologists, said Christian most likely went into “fight or flight mode” on the train.

Howes pointed out that at no time in the police car video did Christian reference blacking out, having tunnel vision or losing control of himself on the train.

The prosecution also called Melissa Nofziger, an assistant inspector general at the Oregon Department of Corrections. She reviewed Christian’s misconduct history from when he was incarcerated for committing a robbery

There were “about a dozen situations where he engaged in fights with other inmates,” Nofziger said. 

“I noticed towards the end of his incarceration with us he seemed to be attacking Hispanic individuals,” Nofzinger said of Christian, noting one fight where Christian went across the dining room assaulting multiple other inmates and another fight during which Christian kicked a restrained inmate in the groin. 

Under questioning, Nofziger said in the documents she reviewed Christian had not requested any mental health treatment, and there were notations that he had “no mental health concerns.”

One of Christian’s attorneys, Greg Scholl, noted that in a “Chrono,” a document written up by a prison official, that Christian had stated he thought he may have bipolar disorder, but had never been diagnosed or medicated. 

Chief Deputy District Attorney Don Rees noted that conversation happened outside of prison, after Christian had been released. 

None of the psychologists who have testified in the trial have diagnosed Christian with bipolar disorder.

Pete Simi, a sociology professor at Chapman University who focuses on the social psychology of hate and extremism, also testified Thursday. The Multnomah County District Attorney’s office asked Simi whether Christian may be part of the white supremacist movement. 

Simi said several incidents in Christian’s records with the Oregon Department of Corrections struck him as noteworthy. For example, Christian was disciplined for a planned assault against an African American inmate. Simi said the records suggest Christian was motivated to attack the inmate because he was in prison for killing a white woman. 

Simi said Christian claimed assaulting the prisoner would be “righteous,” according to the report.

The idea that African American men are threatening to white women, and the fact that Christian used the word “righteous,” is “very consistent with how white supremacists view violent attacks,” Simi said. 

Simi also noted some of Christian’s Facebook posts that were referenced earlier in the day, including Christian’s praise of Timothy McVeigh, the perpetrator of the Oklahoma City bombing.

“Many white supremacists view him as a patriot,” Simi said of McVeigh.

Rees, with the prosecution, also asked Simi about Christian’s frequent comments about freedom of speech. Rees asked Simi if the argument for free speech had any connection to the white supremacist movement.

“White supremacists for quite a while have used this free speech issue to try to appeal to a broader swatch of the population,” Simi said. 

Simi concluded that Christian does hold beliefs consistent with white supremacists.

One of Christian’s attorneys, Smith, questioned Simi’s credentials and experience, noting that for his research he at times embeds himself in white supremacist groups to learn more about them.

Smith asked Simi if he had ever interviewed Christian. He had not. 

“Had you done that perhaps you would have learned more about Jeremy Christian, right?” Smith asked. 

“That is possible,” Simi responded. Later, he said: “If I’d known that was a possibility, I would’ve requested to do that. But I didn’t even think that was a possibility.”

Smith noted that prison records show that the report on a planned assault against a black inmate was written by prison staff and included no direct comments from Christian. 

Christian’s interest in what’s known as “Christian Identity” — a religious ideology that includes fundamentally racist claims against Jewish people and people of color -- also came up Thursday. While in prison, Christian requested books on Christian identity. They were denied.

Smith said Christian showed interest in multiple religious groups while in prison. He attended a Buddhist study group and meditation, a Hindu service and a Wiccan circle.

Smith asked Simi if he would agree that Christian had a wide array of interests.“I would agree with that, but none of them are contrary to having white supremacist beliefs,” Simi said.

What Happens Next

The prosecution will continue its rebuttal Friday. Closing arguments are expected to begin Tuesday.

Go Deeper

Powerful Evidence Raises Questions About Legal Approaches To MAX Murder Trial

Friends, Experts Say Lack Of Mental Health Care Made Portland 2017 MAX Stabbings More Likely

Communities Of Color Still Reeling From 2017 Portland MAX Attack

<p>Prosecutor Don Rees rubs his neck during testimony at the Multnomah County Courthouse on Feb. 13, 2020, day 11 in the trial of Jeremy Christian for the stabbing of three people on a MAX train in Portland in May 2017.</p>

Mark Graves


Prosecutor Don Rees rubs his neck during testimony at the Multnomah County Courthouse on Feb. 13, 2020, day 11 in the trial of Jeremy Christian for the stabbing of three people on a MAX train in Portland in May 2017.

<p>Defense attorney Dean Smith and prosecutor Jeff Howes discuss records shown to Portland police detective Michele Michaels during her testimony at the Multnomah County Courthouse on&nbsp;Feb. 13, 2020, day 11 in the trial of Jeremy Christian for the stabbing of three people on a MAX train in Portland in May 2017.</p>

Brooke Herbert


Defense attorney Dean Smith and prosecutor Jeff Howes discuss records shown to Portland police detective Michele Michaels during her testimony at the Multnomah County Courthouse on Feb. 13, 2020, day 11 in the trial of Jeremy Christian for the stabbing of three people on a MAX train in Portland in May 2017.

Copyright 2020 Oregon Public Broadcasting

Meerah Powell is a general assignment and breaking news reporter for OPB. She previously worked as a news reporter and podcast producer for Eugene Weekly in her hometown of Eugene, Oregon. Along with writing and audio work, Meerah also has experience with photography and videography. She graduated from the University of Oregon's School of Journalism and Communication.