MAX stabbing murder trial delayed
A judge on Friday postponed the trial of MAX train murder defendant Jeremy Christian until next January after defense attorneys said they simply need more time to adequately prepare.
The trial had been scheduled to start June 24.
It’s been nearly two years since Christian was arrested on accusations of aggravated murder in the fatal stabbings of Ricky Best and Taliesin Namkai-Meche, who graduated from Ashland High School, on a train as it pulled into the Hollywood MAX station on May 26, 2017. Christian also is accused of stabbing a third passenger, Micah Fletcher, who survived.
Multnomah County Circuit Judge Cheryl Albrecht said she appreciates comments made by alleged victims in the case and their attorneys that the seven-month delay extends their “purgatory” as they await the outcome.
But Albrecht said she must listen to defense attorneys, who said it would violate Christian’s constitutional rights to bring him to trial when they aren’t ready.
Public defender Greg Scholl told the judge that he and co-counsel Dean Smith still have experts to consult, witnesses to interview and some 1,400 pages of reports and other evidence to review sent by prosecutors in the past five weeks. That’s part of more than 4,000 pages of discovery generated in the case.
But Scholl said he and Smith haven’t been able to devote themselves solely to Christian as a client over that time because they’ve been working on 10 other aggravated murder cases.
“This is the state of indigent defense in Oregon,” Scholl said. “... And we are not whining about it, but we need time to do the work.”
Scholl also said he thinks the potential passage of Senate Bill 1013 is a good reason to delay the trial — and the judge agreed. The bill would make defendants, such as Christian, ineligible for the death penalty. If Oregon lawmakers pass the bill, it would change what both defense lawyers and prosecutors need to do to prepare.
Moments before the hearing started, Christian was escorted into the room by deputies and immediately expressed his opinion on capital punishment, as it relates to his case.
“Don’t put me to death for following state law, Portland,” he said.
At the beginning of the hearing, the judge warned Christian that he would be removed from the courtroom if he repeated behavior from a hearing last week, when he yelled “I’m the victim!” and “Liar!” at a woman in the courtroom.
This time, Christian refrained from any outbursts during the hearing. When asked by the judge if he wanted to delay his trial, he used the opportunity to complain about the prosecution but ultimately answered.
“I’ve been ambivalent up till now,” Christian said. “But everything my attorneys have just said to you, they’ve convinced me that we need a setover.”
After the hearing, Christian blurted some more jabs at Demetria Hester, who had been the subject of his eruption a week ago.
Christian faces charges of second-degree assault and racially motivated intimidation for allegedly throwing a Gatorade bottle at Hester and hitting her in the eye at another MAX station a day before the fatal stabbings.
Hester has said she immediately reported the confrontation to Portland police, but police failed to arrest him. Hester, who is African American, said Christian was spewing racial and ethnic slurs.
Witnesses and police say a similar scenario unfolded the next day, when Best, Namkai-Meche and Fletcher reportedly intervened as Christian was making racist and xenophobic comments and harassing two black teenage girls.
Attorneys representing the interests of several alleged victims — including the two teen girls, Fletcher and Namkai-Meche’s family — urged the judge to help them find closure sooner rather than later. Hester also urged the judge not to prolong their suffering.
“Please give us justice, peace and closure today so we can move forward in our lives,” Hester said.
She told the judge she believed Portland police would have shot and killed Christian, who had been armed with a knife, if he had been a black man. Hester said Christian survived because of his “white privilege,” and she asked the judge not to allow Christian to continue to benefit with a delay in his trial.