Prosecutors Challenge Self-Defense, Mental Disorder Arguments In Christian Trial

The Big Picture

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

The prosecution began its rebuttal case Thursday in an effort to refocus jurors on reasons it believes Christian should be found guilty of the charges he’s facing. The rebuttal included some new evidence, including additional video of Christian before the MAX train stabbings.

Prosecutors called Portland Police Bureau Detective Michele Michaels, who originally testified for the state last week. 

The prosecution had Michaels go through specific parts of the case she had investigated, looking to discredit parts of the defense’s case — specifically that Christian was acting in self-defense and that a mental illness or disorder may have affected his actions.

Michaels went over some of Christian’s social media posts she had reviewed in her investigation.

Some of Christian’s Facebook posts read: “No Jews are good people. Zionists are not good people or Jews … I’ll shank a Zionist eyeball out.”

Another read: “May all the gods bless Timothy McVeigh, a true patriot.” McVeigh is the man who perpetrated the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing.

The majority of his posts focused on practicing free speech and his actions at local political rallies.

In his cross-examination of Michaels, one of Christian’s defense attorneys Dean Smith, asked Michaels to review other social media posts that Christian had shared. Those posts showed his support for Bernie Sanders and universal health care among other topics.   

Chief Deputy District Prosecutor Don Rees during the 11th day of trial for Jeremy Christian at Multnomah County Courthouse in Portland, Ore., Feb. 12, 2020.

Chief Deputy District Prosecutor Don Rees during the 11th day of trial for Jeremy Christian at Multnomah County Courthouse in Portland, Ore., Feb. 12, 2020.

Mark Graves/The Oregonian/OregonLive/Pool

The court and jury also listened to a phone call Christian made from jail to his mother, talking about his extensive comic book collection and which of those books his mother should sell.

Christian’s comic book collection has been brought up multiple times throughout the trial. In the defense’s case, a forensic psychologist said Christian’s interest in comics could be part of his diagnosis of autism spectrum disorder. The prosecution has said it’s shown that he was well-versed in the business practice of buying and selling books to supplement his income.

The court was then shown a video taken of Christian following his altercation with Demetria Hester, the woman Christian allegedly assaulted the night before the MAX stabbing.

In the video, Christian is on another MAX train after the alleged assault, continuing to rant.

He says things like: “I’m about to stab some motherfuckers. Call the police. I dare you.”

Jeff Howes, first assistant to the district attorney, noted that the video took place about 16 hours before the MAX stabbings.

Portland police detective Michele Michaels displays evidence, including the belongings that were on Jeremy Christian when he stabbed three people on a MAX train in May 2017, during day six, February 4, 2020, of testimony in the trial.

Portland police detective Michele Michaels displays evidence, including the belongings that were on Jeremy Christian when he stabbed three people on a MAX train in May 2017, during day six, February 4, 2020, of testimony in the trial.

Brooke Herbert/The Oregonian/OregonLive/Pool

The court also revisited a video of Christian making statements from the back of a police car after his arrest following the MAX stabbings.

During his statements in the car, which varied from more ranting about Muslims, Christians and monotheist religions, to free speech and other topics, he stopped briefly to comment on a vehicle in front of the police car with a bumper sticker that read “blessed be.”

“Blessed be, give them a ticket,” Christian said about the car’s driver.

Howes asked Michaels about Christian’s ability to visually process information — something one of the defense’s expert witnesses, a psychologist, said Christian had difficulty with.

“He’s perfectly able to do it,” Michaels said.

Some of the defense’s expert witnesses, psychologists and forensic psychologists, said Christian most likely went into “fight or flight mode” on the train.

Howes pointed out that at no time in the police car video did Christian reference blacking out, having tunnel vision or losing control of himself on the train.

The prosecution also called Melissa Nofziger, an assistant inspector general at the Oregon Department of Corrections. She reviewed Christian’s misconduct history from when he was incarcerated for committing a robbery

There were “about a dozen situations where he engaged in fights with other inmates,” Nofziger said. 

“I noticed towards the end of his incarceration with us he seemed to be attacking Hispanic individuals,” Nofzinger said of Christian, noting one fight where Christian went across the dining room assaulting multiple other inmates and another fight during which Christian kicked a restrained inmate in the groin. 

Under questioning, Nofziger said in the documents she reviewed Christian had not requested any mental health treatment, and there were notations that he had “no mental health concerns.”

One of Christian’s attorneys, Greg Scholl, noted that in a “Chrono,” a document written up by a prison official, that Christian had stated he thought he may have bipolar disorder, but had never been diagnosed or medicated. 

Chief Deputy District Attorney Don Rees noted that conversation happened outside of prison, after Christian had been released. 

None of the psychologists who have testified in the trial have diagnosed Christian with bipolar disorder.

What Happens Next

The prosecution is calling rebuttal witnesses. Closing arguments are expected to begin Tuesday.

Go Deeper

Powerful Evidence Raises Questions About Legal Approaches To MAX Murder Trial

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

Communities Of Color Still Reeling From 2017 Portland MAX Attack

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