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PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) — Two men who were fatally stabbed and a third who was severely injured in an attack on a Portland, Oregon, light-rail train likely did not know the man charged in the case was holding a small folding knife when they confronted him, a prosecutor said in opening statements Tuesday.
Prosecutor Don Rees told jurors that no one on the train realized Jeremy Christian had pulled the 4-inch knife from his pocket during a shoving match with the victims. Other passengers on the packed commuter train at rush hour thought the men had gotten into a fist fight until they saw blood spurting from the victims' necks, Rees said.
One woman thought it was raining inside the train before she realized the spray was blood, The Oregonian/OregonLive reported.
Christian, 37, is charged with first-degree murder in the deaths of Ricky Best, 53, and Taliesin Namkai-Meche, 23, in the 2017 attack that shook this liberal city to its core. He is also charged with attempted first-degree murder in the serious wounding of a third passenger, Micah Fletcher, who was 21 at the time.
Christian, of Portland, also faces lesser charges of intimidation for what prosecutors have called a hate-filled tirade against two young black women who were riding the train, including one who was wearing a Muslim head covering.
Court documents in the case say Namkai-Meche and Fletcher were trying to stop Christian's ranting and protect the two teenagers when a fight broke out. Best then tried to intervene and all three were stabbed in the neck.
Christian has pleaded not guilty to all charges and defense attorneys have signaled they may argue he was acting in self-defense after Fletcher began to shove him toward the train door. A mental health evaluation conducted for the defense said Christian showed signs of post-traumatic stress disorder from stints in prison, as well as anxiety and social dysfunction.
In his interview with the mental health evaluator, Christian said he wasn't a white supremacist and that he barely noticed the two women. He said he reacted violently because he felt he was about to be beaten up, just as he had been attacked in prison.
He has also repeatedly insisted during court hearings that he has a right to free speech, no matter what the topic, and frequently lashes out in open court.
Tuesday was no different: As he entered the courtroom, he blurted out, “You guys ready to smash Portland’s fairy tale? ... Hate crime?”
Rees, the prosecutor, displayed graphic still frames from on-board train surveillance video for the jury that showed the instants that both Fletcher and Namkai-Meche were stabbed.
“It happened so fast,” Rees said, referencing a still frame. “As you can see, Taliesin is still looking at his phone as the blade goes into Micah Fletcher’s neck.”
An instant later, Rees showed jurors a photo of the blade entering Namkai-Meche’s neck, piercing his carotid artery. The shock on Namkai-Meche’s face as his body shrinks away from Christian is apparent.
At that instant, Best stood up from his seat and was stabbed, severing his artery. Christian stabbed Namkai-Meche and Best repeatedly in the neck and face, with force so powerful that one of Best’s molars broke, Rees said.
“The evidence will show Mr. Best wasn’t really doing anything,” Rees said. “He wasn’t saying anything. He wasn’t moving. He wasn’t waving his arms. He was just standing there.”
Defense attorney Dean Smith, however, countered that all three men confronted Christian about his rant before the stabbings. He told jurors that Best was “wrestling” with Christian before he was stabbed.
“When you are defending yourself against three attackers, you cannot successfully defend yourself with hands,” Smith said.
The trial is expected to last up until the end of February.