Jeremy Christian lawyers: Three men stabbed on Portland MAX train were aggressors
Occasional gasps and sobs punctuated opening statements by the prosecution and defense on Tuesday, Jan. 28, in the high-profile trial of accused MAX killer Jeremy Christian.
The trial, expected to last a month, began Tuesday in a Multnomah County courtroom more than two-and-a-half years after the widely publicized May 26, 2017, confrontation that ended in the deaths of Taliesin Namkai-Meche and Ricky Best. A third man, Micah Fletcher, was seriously wounded in the incident.
In media coverage of witness statements, as well as prosecution arguments in circuit court, Christian has been widely portrayed as shouting racist hate speech and menacing two young black women on a TriMet Green line MAX train. One of the young women was wearing a Muslim hijab. During the incident, Fletcher, Best and Namkai-Meche confronted Christian, who stabbed all three men.
Witnesses described the three men as heroes. Prosecutor Don Rees echoed that message in the packed courtroom.
Rees began by showing graphic photos on a video screen and talking 14 seated jurors, including two alternates, through the timeline of how the incident rapidly escalated. He cited witness testimony while arguing that Christian should be convicted of murdering two men, and nearly murdering another, with no provocation.
Rees told the jury the evidence will prove beyond a reasonable doubt that Christian intended to kill the men. Not only that, but he said "the evidence in this case will show that Jeremy Christian still lacks remorse about what he did…" — Christian, sitting between his defense lawyers as Rees spoke, appeared to nod at this point — "…and he still feels completely justified."
Reese urged the jurors to see past the arguments he said would likely come from the defense: that Christian was acting in self-defense and that his social issues put him on the autism spectrum.
"He knew exactly what he was doing," Rees said, adding that the prosecution's psychiatrist found that Christian suffers only from anti-social personality disorder. "Anti-social personality is the term for someone who disregards the rights of others, acts impulsively, acts aggressively and lacks remorse. And that pattern of behavior is not a defense to the crimes charged."
Not a 'wild killing spree'
Defense attorney Dean Smith used the same video and timeline as prosecutors to argue that Christian had played the role of free-speech zealot and "provocateur," staying in his seat until challenged. Smith said that among a long period of several minutes of ranting, Christian spent only one 30-second period looking in the direction of the girls he stands accused of intimidating. Smith played audio from the train of Christian ranting against Jews, Christians and Muslims, and suggested that witnesses who heard him say "go back to Saudi Arabia" missed the first part of what he said: "Don't believe in free speech?"
Smith showed jurors a photo of Namkai-Meche smiling as Christian ranted, suggesting he didn't think the girls were in danger.
Smith told jurors that it was Fletcher who first became violent, and that the three men whom Christian stabbed were the aggressors. He said they were not acting to defend the girls, Walio Mohamed and Destinee Mangum.
"Mr. Fletcher's efforts to throw Mr. Christian off the MAX had nothing to do with (protecting the girls,)" Smith said. "Mr. Fletcher's efforts to throw Mr. Christian off the MAX had to do (with) something else."
Smith contended that Fletcher's efforts to throw Christian off the train were "backed up" by Namkai-Meche and Best — the latter of whom was standing behind the two others —and therefore constituted felony assault. This, Smith argued, meant that Christian's use of a knife was backed by state law.
Smith noted that the woman Christian had sat next to on the MAX, Amee Pacheco, had pulled on his arm in the middle of the violence, and he did not stab her. Nor, argued Smith, did he stab Shawn Forde, an African American man who urged Christian to be quiet but who, also, the lawyer noted, had supported Christian's right to free speech.
"This wasn't some wild killing spree," Smith said, adding that the only ones injured "were the ones that confronted Mr. Christian."
Smith was about to play a recording of Christian talking on the MAX when Judge Cheryl Albrecht called for a break.
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