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Jeremy Christian Will Not Testify In TriMet Trial, Defense Continues

The Big Picture

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

UPDATE (11:34 a.m. PT) Christian announced to the court that he would not be testifying in the trial. 

Judge Cheryl Albrecht asked him if he understood the decision he was making. Christian said he did. 

Albrecht also asked him if he had discussed the decision adequately with his attorneys.

“Yes,” Christian answered. “They came to visit me last night and we talked about it at length.”

Albrecht informed Christian that until the case is closed, he could still choose to testify.

Christian’s defense attorneys continued presenting their case Wednesday, focusing on Christian’s past.

Christian’s defense attorneys called witnesses that knew Christian throughout his life, including Marcia Hoy, the mother of one of Christian’s childhood friends.

Hoy said her son and Christian still remain friends. 

“We don’t believe in abandoning people,” she said.

Hoy said at one point when Christian was around 18 years old, he had gotten into a fight with his mother and moved into Hoy’s house. 

Hoy knew Christian well from living with him and said he changed slightly before he committed a robbery and went to prison.

“He became more withdrawn and less social than he used to be,” Hoy said of Christian.

She, and other witnesses like Carrie Self, someone Christian worked with at a pizza restaurant, and Crystal Mawson, another coworker who Christian dated for three or four months, said they did not believe Christian was a racist.

“I saw the news, but I don’t recognize that person,” Hoy said of Christian. 

She said Christian and her son had friends of different races and religions. 

“They didn’t exclude anyone,” Hoy said.

Hoy said after Christian got out of prison, he seemed like he was still, in many ways, the same person from before. 

“He seemed so young compared to everyone else he grew up with, like he was left behind. It was sad,” she said. 

Self, Christian’s coworker, gave similar testimony. She said she had also reunited with Christian after he was out of prison.

“He was in prison in his 20s, and we had all grown up and kind of moved on and Jeremy was just kind of stuck,” Self said.

She said she did see some changes in him, though.

“He was different, definitely, being in prison that long,” Self said. “Before he went to prison he was, you know, just a goofy kid. When he came out he was just harder.”

Mawson, who had dated Christian, also described Christian the same way: “There was just something about him. He seemed a little bit more angry. He seemed a little bit more loud.”

She said after he got out of prison he liked to discuss freedom of speech, something he didn’t do before. 

Mawson described Christian as a kind person. She said when they were dating they would often go to the zoo, the movies or hang out with friends.

Wednesday also brought the continuation of the prosecution’s cross-examination of Dr. Timothy Derning, a forensic psychologist called by the defense. During his testimony Tuesday afternoon, Derning talked through his assessment of Christian, which concluded in a diagnosis of autism spectrum disorder.

Chief Deputy District Attorney Don Rees questioned Derning about Christian’s father, Donald Christian. Derning had said Tuesday that autism spectrum disorder can present itself in families, typically in male family members. He had said after meeting Donald Christian, he found him to be “very autistic.”

Rees questioned Derning on if he had actually diagnosed Donald Christian with autism spectrum disorder. He said he hadn’t. Derning said he didn’t give Donald Christian any tests during their meeting, and that they only focused on Jeremy Christian.

“He has a lot of autistic features,” Derning said of Donald Christian. 

Rees went into Donald Christian’s background, noting how he graduated from high school, went to college and was drafted into the Vietnam War. After that, Donald Christian joined the U.S. Coast Guard, serving four years in aviation electronics, flying all around the world. He then married Jeremy Christian’s mother who was also in the Coast Guard.

Donald Christian then worked at a Radio Shack for six years and then worked 12 years at the company Canteen, in its electronics division.

Derning had noted before that some people with autism spectrum disorder have a hard time holding jobs, conflicting with Donald Christian’s history of steady employment.

Rees also said to Derning that Donald Christian had said that Jeremy Christian, as a child, was “sweet and nice to people” and that he loved and was good to their family dog.

“Doesn’t that sound like the story of a typical working class family in Portland, Oregon?” Rees asked.

“It does sound like that, yeah,” Derning said.

Rees then focused his questioning of Derning back to Jeremy Christian, pointing out that in Derning’s report he had written that racism could have been a factor in Christian’s actions on the MAX train.

“Many other powerful factors … led to Jeremy Christian’s violence on the MAX train,” Rees read from Derning’s report. “One factor that you considered in your report was racism.”

He continued: “There is the issue of Jeremy Christian being a racist, you wrote.”

Derning said, “Yes,” and that that was one of the factors he considered in his evaluation of Christian.

Rees said that in Derning’s report he had also written that Christian “mimics white supremacy thinking,” referencing that Christian was in prison when he became interested in the Christian Identity Ideology. That’s a religious ideology, Rees said, in which there are beliefs of Jewish people being the “children of the devil” and people of color being “mud people.”

Rees also brought up other racist comments Christian had been recorded making, such as calling a police officer the n-word multiple times.

“If it looks like a duck, swims like a duck and quacks like a duck, it probably is a duck,” Rees said to Derning. “Is it possible that Christian is exactly what he looks like?”

“Meaning what exactly?” Derning responded. 

Rees ended his cross-examination there. 

One of Christian’s defense attorneys, Greg Scholl, redirected the questioning of Derning by bringing up Christian’s grades during high school. He had Derning read from a report card that showed Christian had received a cumulative grade point average of 0.35 during one school term.

“Do you think ASD [Autism Spectrum Disorder]  is relevant to understanding the events that happened on the MAX that day?” Scholl asked Derning.

“I think it’s relevant to understanding who he is,” Derning replied.

What Happens Next

The defense finished calling witnesses Wednesday afternoon. The prosecution is set to begin its rebuttal Thursday which is expected to last into Friday. Closing arguments are expected to begin next Tuesday.

Go Deeper

Expert Witnesses Testify To Jeremy Christian's Mental Functioning

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

Survivor Of Portland Train Stabbing Testifies In Ongoing Murder Trial

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.
Conrad Wilson is a reporter and producer covering criminal justice and legal affairs for OPB.