A Portland man who spewed racist, hate-filled rhetoric at a pair of black teenage girls on a light-rail train before fatally stabbing two people who tried to help them was convicted of murder on Thursday.
Jeremy Christian, a 37-year-old self-proclaimed white nationalist, was found guilty of all 12 charges—including first-degree murder, attempted murder, and first-degree assault—for killing Ricky Best, 53, and Taliesin Namkai-Meche, 23, as they tried to intervene during the May 26, 2017, incident on the Portland train car. Christian also seriously injured Micah Fletcher, then a 21-year-old student at Portland State University.
Christian was also charged with harassing and assaulting Demetria Hester, a black woman who testified that he was “yelling, ranting, and raving” about being a Nazi on the Metropolitan Area Express (MAX) light-rail train the night before the deadly attack.
“‘I’m about to stab some motherfuckers.’ That’s what the defendant said,” Jeff Howes, the first assistant to the district attorney in Multnomah County said in his closing arguments Wednesday, according to Oregon Live. “Seventeen hours later, he would stick a knife into three people’s necks.”
“Ladies and gentlemen, this case is about a person who at some point in late May 2017 decided he was going to go out with a bang,” he added.
Christian’s defense team has maintained his innocence, claiming their client suffers from several mental-health issues and acted out of self-defense because he was being assaulted by Fletcher. The accused killer made a dramatic entrance into the packed Multnomah County courtroom for opening statements on Jan. 28, announcing: “Are you guys ready to smash Portland’s fairy tale?”
“We live in a world where confronting a loud and annoying and obnoxious person in the wrong way can lead to catastrophic results. And that is what happened in this case,” defense attorney Greg Scholl said during closing arguments. “The only people who were injured were the three men who were confronting Mr. Christian and attempting to throw him off the train. This wasn’t some wild killing spree generally on the MAX that day.”
Prosecutors argued during the four-week trial that Christian—whom they described as a violently bigoted person—directed his hate-filled diatribe toward two teenagers on the train, Destinee Mangum and Walio Mohamed, who was wearing a hijab, just after 4 p.m. while simultaneously chugging sangria out of a plastic bag. During his rant, Christian allegedly looked at the teens and made “a slicing motion across his neck.”
“A 250-pound man yelling this stuff at two 16-year-olds, making threatening gestures, holding up religious books,” Howes said Wednesday, reminding jurors that Christian was carrying the Book of Mormon during the train ride.
The two teens were among 40 witnesses who testified in the prosecution’s case, each sharing the hateful comments they heard Christian scream and how they were scared for their lives.
“He was saying ‘Fuck Muslims,’ ‘Go back to Saudi Arabia,’” Mohamed, now 20, said before bursting into tears. “He was saying ‘Kill yourself.’ I’ve never experienced any racism towards me or anything he was saying. I’d just never experienced it.”
Mangum, 18, reiterated her friend’s comments, telling jurors that she noticed Christian “just had a bad look in his eye” and remembers him saying “Nazis are not bad people.”
Prosecutors said Christian also ranted about his right to free speech, talked about beheading people, and condemned Muslims, Christians, and Jews.
As the girls moved away from him, the three men stepped in to form a barrier as they tried to de-escalate the situation. Security-camera footage shown in court revealed that Christian shoved Fletcher first, at which point the pair got into a physical altercation. Christian, who was standing, fell back into a seat during the tussle—then suddenly pulled out a 4-inch knife and stabbed Fletcher in the neck without warning.
Prosecutors said Christian then slashed Namkai-Meche, a recent university graduate, and Best, an Army vet and father of four who worked for Portland’s Bureau of Development Services. Best was pronounced dead at the scene when paramedics arrived, and Namkai-Meche died after he was rushed to a local hospital, authorities said.
After his arrest, Christian allegedly openly admitted to police what he had done, stating in a video played to jurors: “That’s right, this is a hate crime. I hope they all die. I’m a patriot. I hope they all die.’”
“You put your hands on me, you abridge my freedom of movement, you assault me, you die,” Christian also said told investigators that day, according to a statement read in court by Det. Michele Michaels, according to Oregon Live. “I hope they died.”
Later, while Christian was in a holding cell at the Multnomah County Justice Center, the 37-year-old was caught on video screaming and banging against the door while telling investigators he wanted to stab Demetria Hester.
“I would have stabbed her if I could have seen,” Christian allegedly said while behind bars. “Fuckers who put their hands on me. That’s when it gets ugly.”
Christian’s attorney, however, offered a different viewpoint as he walked the jury through the incident, arguing Wednesday that Christian was acting in self-defense and exercising his free-speech rights. Scholl claimed Namkai-Meche and Fletcher were the initial aggressors.
Stephen Yerger, a self-employed use-of-force consultant at 3 Tier Services, testified on behalf of the defense that Fletcher poured “gasoline on the fire” when he invaded Christian’s personal space moments before the attack—prompting Christian to respond defensively for fear of his life. The defense also called several psychologists, who all concluded Christian has “some mental-health issues,” including a diagnosis of autism spectrum disorder and executive functioning dysfunction.
“Even if you decide that he’s a white supremacist or a bigot or just a big jerk—that doesn’t mean he committed all of the crimes he’s accused of,” Scholl said. “His motivation was to defend himself, not to commit murder or any of the other crimes.”