Suspect in Portland train stabbings says he was on autopilot

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Posted: Dec 08, 2017 8:42 PM
Suspect in Portland train stabbings says he was on autopilot

PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) — A man charged with the stabbing deaths of two commuters on a Portland light-rail train was on "autopilot" and wasn't fully aware of his actions until he heard passengers screaming that he was killing people, according to a psychological evaluation unsealed Friday.

The evaluation ordered by Jeremy Christian's attorneys was submitted to the court last month as part of an unsuccessful bid to secure his release on bail. Christian, 35, has pleaded not guilty and is in custody awaiting trial.

At a hearing last month, Portland homicide detective Michele Michaels testified that Christian inflicted 11 stab wounds in 11 seconds after passengers confronted him about anti-Muslim comments directed at two teenage girls. Passengers Taliesin Namkai-Meche, 23, and Rick Best, were stabbed to death.

A third man, Micah Fletcher, was slashed in the throat but survived.

Whether Christian was animated by racial bias and was harassing the girls or not before the attack could be pivotal questions in the case.

The defense evaluation quotes Christian as saying the two girls were 15 feet away and he didn't speak to them or direct his comments at them.

"At odds with accounts in the media, Mr. Christian reported that the two girls on the MAX did not cross his mind," wrote Dr. Mark D. Cunningham, a Seattle-based psychologist.

Cunningham said Christian liked to make inflammatory comments in public to assert his right to free speech but was not driven by racial hatred. He had consumed sangria that day and planned to "do his free speech thing" because he was angry about being pepper-sprayed the night before by a passenger on another train.

"Mr. Christian reported that if he has been drinking, he tends to 'talk politics' on the MAX to see if he 'can get someone's goat,'" Cunningham wrote.

According to the detective's previous testimony, Christian got on the train about 12 minutes before the attack, initially talking on his cellphone before making statements toward passengers in an agitated manner. Michaels said many witnesses heard xenophobic comments and rants about free speech.

Fletcher recalled Christian yelling at the girls — one of whom was wearing hijab — and saying they didn't belong in the United States. Fletcher moved toward Christian as the girls moved away, Michaels said. He joined another man, Shawn Forde, in trying to get Christian to be quiet.

Forde then told Fletcher to let it go, and the college student stopped talking to Christian for about three minutes, the detective said.

During that period, Namkai-Meche moved away from Christian as he spoke to his aunt on the phone. She suggested he record the rant in case something happened.

Under cross-examination, Michaels acknowledged that a witness heard Namkai-Meche tell Christian: "You're going to be an Internet sensation."

Christian grabbed the cellphone and threw it to the ground. The men stood "chest to chest," the detective said, and Christian repeatedly challenged Namkai-Meche to "Do something!"

Fletcher defended his fellow passenger, and Christian shoved both men. Fletcher pulled Christian backward, then gave him another shove toward the open door of the now-stopped train, Michaels said.

Christian pulled out a knife and gave Fletcher a roundhouse stab in the neck, the detective testified. He then stabbed Namkai-Meche and Best, who had tried to stop the attack, Michaels said.

Cunningham, the defense psychologist, said Christian spent more than eight years in prison during his early adulthood and may have had a "fight or flight" reaction when the passengers confronted him. Christian fought frequently in prison and spent much of his incarceration in solitary confinement, where he was suicidal, he wrote.

Friends interviewed for the evaluation said Christian's psychological health seemed to deteriorate in the six months before the attack and a family meeting shortly before may have further destabilized him, Cunningham said.

His mother told him he would need to move his collection of 15,000 comic books out of her house. She said she would pay for two months of storage and then Christian would be on his own, the psychologist wrote. Christian had never lived alone.

He had dropped out of high school, worked four years at a pizza shop before prison, has never had a romantic relationship and doesn't know how to drive, the report said. He doesn't know how to engage in conversation and often makes provocative statements to compensate for his social dysfunction, Cunningham wrote.

The psychologist suggested Christian may have a variant of obsessive-compulsive disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder from his prison stint and a social disorder.