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Bigotry fueled fatal attack on man from Ashland, jury rules

A 12-person jury ruled Thursday that Jeremy Christian, fueled by racist and religious bigotry, callously disregarded the lives of Ashland native Taliesin Namkai-Meche and the other men he stabbed on a MAX train, and poses a future danger and can’t be rehabilitated.

The jury also determined that Christian showed no remorse for his victims. Defense attorneys had disagreed — highlighting Christian’s statements to a police detective that he felt bad about the death of one of his victims because the man’s children would grow up without a father. Presumably, Christian was talking about Ricky Best, a father of four.

During two days of court hearings Tuesday and Wednesday, prosecutors asked jurors six questions about Christian and his crimes:

Were Christian’s crimes fueled by “his unreasonable racial and religious bias”? Did he show a callous disregard for the value of human life? Is he likely to be violent in the future? Has he shown no remorse? Is the likelihood that he can’t be rehabilitated high? Was he at least 18 years old at the time?

After deliberating for six hours Wednesday and Thursday, jurors agreed with the prosecution on each question by answering “yes” with unanimous votes.

No sentencing date has been scheduled. Multnomah County Circuit Court Judge Cheryl Albrecht could use the jury’s findings about Christian to help her determine his sentence.

After 15 days of trial, jurors found Christian guilty last week of 12 crimes, including first-degree murder for the deaths of Namkai-Meche and Best, attempted first-degree murder for the serious wounding of Micah Fletcher and hate crimes against two teenage girls, one who was wearing a hijab, on a crowded MAX train as it pulled into the Hollywood Transit Center in Northeast Portland May 26, 2017.

Oregon’s new first-degree murder law, which took effect Sept. 29, empowers the judge with two sentencing options: Life in prison with a 30-year minimum and what’s known as “true life,” which is life in prison with no possibility of release.

Christian’s defense attorneys, however, are arguing that the new law, passed as Senate Bill 1013 last summer, is unconstitutional and as a result leaves the judge with only one option — sentencing Christian to life with a 30-year minimum. Defense lawyers and the prosecution plan to debate that during another hearing, which hasn’t been scheduled yet.

This week, Christian’s defense attorneys called upon the testimony of forensic psychologist Mark Cunningham, who said Christian didn’t commit his crimes out of racial or religious bias. Cunningham interviewed Christian during four visits to jail.

“At the end of the day, Jeremy Christian thinks he’s superior, not because he’s white” but because he believes he has a better understanding of the world’s problems than others, Cunningham said.

Cunningham said although others describe Christian as a white supremacist, Christian had a fantasy about moving to Brazil and marrying a member of an indigenous tribe.

Defense attorney Dean Smith asked jurors to consider “the bigger, broader picture” of Christian, not “a simplistic idea of who he is.” Smith told jurors that Christian could be rehabilitated by the time he’s 65. Christian was 35 at the time of the stabbings, and the earliest he might be considered for release if he’s given life with 30-year minimum prison term is at age 65.

“What about when he’s 40, 50, 60 and 65, is he going to be the same person? He’s going to grow, he’s going to change,” Smith said.

On the contrary, prosecutor Don Rees told jurors that Christian has long track record of violence, including the gunpoint robbery of a convenience store at age 20 and multiple fights he got into during his nearly eight-year prison term. A prosecution-hired psychiatrist diagnosed Christian with antisocial personality disorder, which is characterized by violence, aggression, lack of compassion for others and criminal thinking.

“Is he someone who is going to hurt someone again? In the state’s view, absolutely,” Rees said.

Jeremy Christian during his 15-day trial, which resulted in a verdict of guilty on all counts on Friday, Feb. 21, 2020. Mark Graves, The Oregonian/OregonLive