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Jeremy Christian convicted in death of Ashland man among other charges

A jury Friday unanimously found Jeremy Christian guilty of the first-degree murders of Ashland native Taliesin Namkai-Meche and another man and the attempted first-degree murder of a third man on a rush-hour MAX train in Portland.

Jurors deliberated about 11 hours over two days before reaching the verdicts in the deaths of Namkai-Meche, 23, and Ricky Best, 53, and the serious wounding of Micah Fletcher, then 21, on May 26, 2017. Christian stabbed all three in the neck on the Green Line train as it pulled into the Hollywood Transit Center at about 4:30 p.m.

Jurors also found Christian guilty of hate crimes for threatening to harm two teenage girls on the train, one who is African American and the other an immigrant from Somalia wearing a hijab. Witnesses said he had ranted about Muslims, Christians and Jews dying, spoke of beheadings and shouted “Go home, we need American here!”

Jurors, too, found Christian guilty of assaulting an African American woman as part of a hate crime the night before on May 25, 2017. Demetria Hester testified Christian had repeatedly been shouting “that he was a Nazi, that he hated all Muslims, blacks, Jews” while riding a Yellow Line train, she had told him to stop and he’d thrown a half-full Gatorade bottle at her face, injuring her eye.

In all, Christian was found guilty of 12 counts by unanimous votes from the jury. The other crimes included pointing his knife at commuter Shawn Forde after Christian stormed off the train and asking if anybody else wanted some. Christian then fled the transit center and was arrested about a mile away, thanks in part to passengers who followed him and notified police of his location.

The verdict was announced shortly before 3:30 p.m. to a packed courtroom, with victims and victims’ relatives filling one side. They included Fletcher, Hester and Forde, as well as relatives of Namkai-Meche and Best. Christian’s mother sat on the other side of the courtroom.

Fletcher sat with his eyes closed as the judge read aloud the jury’s findings. Tears streamed down Hester’s face. Some members of the dead men’s families cried quietly as they heeded the judge’s prior warning to uphold the courtroom’s decorum by refraining from any audible reactions.

Christian didn’t express any emotion. Nine deputies were in the room to provide security.

In the hallway afterward, Hester offered a friend a big hug and exclaimed “Black Lives Matter!” Moments later, she explained her relief to a crowd of reporters outside the courthouse.

“It (the verdict) let people like Jeremy Joseph Christian know that you’re not going to get away with it,” Hester said. “We do have people that care about all of us because black lives do matter. And the people that were killed, they did that out of love and protection.”

She said white supremacy should never be tolerated.

“This gave us hope ... yes there’s actually people out there that don’t want this to happen and want it to stop,” Hester said.

Fletcher quietly left the courthouse without making any comments after the verdict was read. But his father, Michael Fletcher, expressed gratitude for the jurors. He said he felt “justice has been served.”

He said his son is doing well.

“He’s just trying to put his life back together and kind of move forward,” the elder Fletcher said. “And as you’ve seen in court he’s there for me too. ... I thank everyone one of (the jurors) for the decisions they’ve made. I think they made the right decisions.”

The two teen girls, Walia Mohamed and Destinee Mangum, targeted by Christian didn’t attend the reading of the verdict. Mangum’s mother, Dyjuana Hudson, passed on the news from the courthouse and said both her daughter and Mohamed were “very happy” with the jury’s decision. On the train, Mohamed had been wearing a hijab, but she no longer does out of fear for her safety in public.

“It’s been a long emotional ride, ...very hard for them,” Hudson said. “They’re getting over it. They’re taking the steps necessary to heal properly. They’re doing better.”

Multnomah County District Attorney Rod Underhill sat in the back of the courtroom as the verdict was announced. He said afterward that he is pleased, and that his office will “continue to focus our efforts toward helping” the victims and the dead men’s families.

“Our community continues to feel the profound impact from this violent and racist attack that happened more than two years ago,” Underhill said in a statement. “This verdict supports and upholds the state’s belief that Jeremy Joseph Christian acted intentionally when he committed these crimes. We thank the jurors for their dedication, diligence and swift deliverance of justice.”

Portland Police Chief Jami Resch was among other community leaders who reacted.

“This horrific attack on members of our community has traumatically impacted the victims, their families, those who witnessed the events and provided emergency aid to the injured, our first responders who attempted to save the lives of those mortally wounded, our officers who apprehended the suspect and gathered witness accounts, and our investigators who spent countless hours building a case,” Resch said in a statement on Twitter.

“While the criminal phase of this event has concluded, the deep impacts of the loss of lives for the families, friends, and our community will not be forgotten,” Resch continued. “Violence is not acceptable in the City of Portland. My hope is for us to come together as a community with more kindness and increased tolerance for differences as we continue our healing.”

About 3 1/2 miles east of the courthouse Friday afternoon, a woman placed a bouquet of roses next to the memorial mural wall at the Hollywood Transit Center.

The attack-- and the moments before and after -- were caught on transit surveillance video and videos recorded by passengers using their cellphones and offered jurors a view of precisely what unfolded on the train. The existence of such footage is highly unusual in a murder case.

Christian also made many statements about wanting to stab people the night before. After his arrest, he said he was protecting his right to free speech and he hoped the people he stabbed died.

The videos show Christian ranting for at least 6 minutes before he pulled out his nearly 4-inch knife and used it. Some passengers said they hadn’t thought at the time that Christian was directing his tirade at anyone in particular. Defense attorneys pointed out that during Christian’s harangue, video showed Christian looking directly at the girls for only 31 seconds. But police Detective Michele Michaels said Christian at one point in the ride was looking at the girls when he “made a slicing motion across his neck” using his hand.

Both girls, who were 16 and 17 years old at the time, said they felt threatened by Christian. They said when the train stopped, they ran into a nearby health club and hid in fear that Christian would follow and hurt or kill them.

Christian’s crimes deeply traumatized commuters who witnessed the carnage. More than a dozen testified during the trial, which spanned 15 days of court over a four-week period. Many said at first they thought a fist-fight had broken out on the train, then they saw blood pouring from the men. Some said they tried futilely to help Best, who was declared dead on the train, and Namkai-Meche, who died on an ambulance on the way to the hospital.

Civil rights leaders across the country immediately condemned the stabbings, and stunned local leaders and residents paid tribute to the men who died. The community scrawled hundreds of chalk declarations of love and peace at the transit center and placed piles of flowers and other mementos there.

Friday, a member of Portland’s Islamic community said he hoped the jury’s decision in Jeremy Christian’s trial would help inspire change.

“We welcome the verdict in this case and hope that it leads to a new path for Oregon -- one in which we all see the importance of standing up to and defeating hate,” said Zakir Khan, a spokesperson for the Oregon chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR-Oregon). “The memories of Ricky Best and Taliesin Myrddin Namkai-Meche’s lives should remind us of the courage that we all must use to develop a new culture here in Oregon. That culture should be one in which we accept, love and believe in each other.”

The charges against Jeremy Christian

COUNT 1 -- First-degree murder of Taliesin Namkai-Meche, a passenger stabbed on the MAX train on May 26, 2017: Guilty

COUNT 2 -- First-degree murder of Ricky Best, a passenger stabbed on the MAX train on May 26, 2017: Guilty

COUNT 3 -- Attempted first-degree murder of Micah Fletcher, a passenger stabbed on the MAX train on May 26, 2017: Guilty

COUNT 4 -- First-degree assault of Micah Fletcher, a passenger seriously injured on the MAX train on May 26, 2017: Guilty

COUNT 5 -- Second-degree intimidation of Walia Mohamed, a passenger threatened with “serious physical injury” on the MAX train on May 26, 2017, based on her race, religion or national origin: Guilty

COUNT 6 -- Second-degree intimidation of Destinee Mangum, a passenger threatened with “serious physical injury” on the MAX train on May 26, 2017, based on her race, religion or national origin: Guilty

COUNT 7 -- Unlawful use of a weapon against Shawn Forde, a passenger threatened with a knife on the MAX platform on May 26, 2017: Guilty

COUNT 8 -- Menacing against Shawn Forde, a passenger threatened with “serious physical injury” on the MAX platform on May 26, 2017: Guilty

COUNT 9 -- Second-degree intimidation against Demetria Hester, a passenger on a different train threatened with “serious physical injury” on May 25, 2017, based on her race or national origin: Guilty

COUNT 10 -- Second-degree assault against Demetria Hester, a passenger on a different train injured after being hit with a Gatorade bottle on May 25, 2017: Guilty

COUNT 11 -- Unlawful use of a weapon against Demetria Hester, a passenger on a different train hit with a Gatorade bottle, “a deadly and dangerous weapon,” on May 25, 2017: Guilty

COUNT 12 -- Menacing against Demetria Hester, a passenger on a different train threatened with “serious physical injury” on May 25, 2017: Guilty

Oregonian / OregonLive photo.