Man convicted of murder, hate crimes in 2017 stabbings on Oregon commuter train

An Oregon man who fatally stabbed two train commuters and seriously wounded a third as they intervened in his racist rant against two black girls in 2017 has been convicted of murder and multiple hate crimes.

Jeremy Joseph Christian, 37, was found guilty Friday of 12 charges, including two counts of first-degree murder, attempted murder, assault, intimidation and menacing, in the May 26, 2017, killings of Ricky John Best, 53, of Happy Valley, and Taliesin Myrddin Namkai-Meche, 23, of Portland, and the wounding of Micah Fletcher, then a 21-year-old Portland State University student. Christian stabbed all three men in the neck on Portland’s Green Line train as it pulled into the city’s Hollywood Transit Center.

Christian, a self-proclaimed white nationalist, also pointed his knife at a fourth commuter who had confronted him, Shawn Forde, as he fled the train platform.

The altercation and the stabbings were all caught on video, both by passengers’ cellphones and by security cameras on the train.

Prosecutors said Best, Namkai-Meche and Fletcher were stabbed after Namkai-Meche and Fletcher came to the defense of an African-American teen, Destinee Mangum, and her friend, Somalian teen Walia Mohamed, who was wearing a Muslim headscarf. According to The Associated Press, Christian ranted at the girls, talking about beheadings and making a slicing motion across his neck.

The assault and menacing charges against Christian stemmed from a hate crime the night before the stabbings, in which Christian assaulted Demetria Hester, who testified that Christian shouted "that he was a Nazi (and) that he hated all Muslims, blacks, Jews," the Oregonian said.

Christian threw a half-full Gatorade bottle at Hester, who was struck in the eye, the newspaper reported.

Multnomah County District Attorney Rod Underhill thanked jurors following the verdict for their "dedication, diligence and swift delivery of justice."

"Our community continues to feel the profound impact from this violent and racist attack that happened more than two years ago," Underhill said in a statement. "This verdict supports and upholds the state's belief that Jeremy Joseph Christian acted intentionally when he committed these crimes.

“While we are pleased with today’s verdict, we continue to focus our efforts toward helping the families of Ricky Best and Taliesin Namkai-Meche as well as Micah Fletcher, Demetria Hester, (Walia) Mohamed, Destinee Mangum and Shawn Forde deal with the unimaginable and lasting trauma caused by Jeremy Joseph Christian.”

Credit: Beth Nakamura/The Oregonian via AP

Credit: Beth Nakamura/The Oregonian via AP

Editor’s note: The following story contains graphic descriptions of a fatal confrontation, as well as videos containing graphic images and explicit language. 

The Oregonian said Christian sat motionless and expressionless as the 12 unanimous guilty verdicts were read. A total of nine deputies were stationed in the courtroom to keep order.

Family members of the victims wept quietly, heeding the judge’s prior warnings about outbursts in the courtroom.

Hester celebrated the verdicts in the hallway afterward, hugging a friend and shouting, "Black lives matter," the newspaper reported.

"It (the verdict) let people like Jeremy Joseph Christian know that you're not going to get away with it," Hester told reporters outside the courthouse. "We do have people that care about all of us because black lives do matter. And the people that were killed, they did that out of love and protection."

All three men who were stabbed on the train were white. Best, a U.S. Army veteran who worked for Portland’s Bureau of Development Services, was commuting home when he was killed.

Namkai-Meche, a 2016 Reed College graduate, commuted on the MAX or by bus to and from his job working on environmental projects for a consulting firm because of his concern over the environment, the Oregonian reported.

Watch family members of Ricky Best and Taliesin Namkai-Meche testify below, courtesy of the Oregonian. 

‘Free speech or die’

Prosecutors said Christian boarded the train the afternoon of the stabbings and almost immediately honed in on Mangum and Mohamed. According to a probable cause affidavit in the case, he was drinking sangria from a bladder-style container as he rode the train.

He looked directly at the two teen girls when he made a slashing motion across his throat, according to testimony.

Witnesses during the four-week trial testified that Christian ranted about his idea of how to attain world peace: “A billion Christians kill a billion Muslims, and then the Jews kill themselves.”

Just weeks before the stabbings, Christian was kicked out of a free speech rally in Portland by its organizers. Footage from the event shows Christian railing against Muslims and Jews and throwing up a Nazi salute as he walks around while wearing a 1776 American flag as a cape.

Cellphone footage obtained by the Oregonian shows Christian making the comments. He also rails against circumcision -- "My body, my choice," he says -- and complains about Saudi Arabia.

“Go home, we need American here,” he shouts.

Christian says in the video that his right to free speech allows him to shout his beliefs on the train.

“Free speech or die,” Christian says at one point. “If you don’t like it, get the (expletive) out.”

Watch courtroom images of the suspect and victims prior to and during the fatal confrontation below. Warning: The video contains graphic images and explicit language. 

The train operator testified that he could hear a commotion and ordered passengers to "knock it off" or he'd call the cops. He did call his dispatcher, who had police officers en route to the station before the stabbing took place, KATU in Portland reported.

Namkai-Meche confronted Christian, as did Forde, who also alerted the conductor by pressing an alarm button in the train car, according to testimony. Namkai-Meche had pulled out his cellphone and moved to a seat closer to Christian to record the rant.

One witness sitting nearby testified that Namkai-Meche told Christian, “You’re about to become an internet sensation.”

Forde, a black former Marine, testified that he tried to use his body, which the Oregonian described as 6 feet, 2 inches tall and 290 pounds, as a shield to protect the two girls Christian was harassing.

"I changed my position on the train to ... get him to focus on me rather than focus on these two young girls," Forde said, according to the newspaper. "They looked really out of sorts. They looked scared.

“I remember turning around briefly to the young ladies and I mouthed, ‘Are you OK?’’ And one of them said, ‘Yes. Thank you.’”

Watch one cellphone video of the fatal confrontation below. Warning: The video contains graphic images and explicit language. 

The recordings shot by fellow commuters show Christian grab Namkai-Meche’s phone and throw it on the ground. Namkai-Meche and Christian both stand from their seats as they face off.

The videos show the subsequent murders from different angles of the train.

"Do something, (expletive)! Do something!" Christian can be heard shouting at Namkai-Meche.

The probable cause affidavit indicates Christian is seen in surveillance video pulling a 4-inch folded knife from his pocket and concealing it in his right hand.

He shoves Namkai-Meche, at which point Fletcher intervenes, pulling Christian away from him. Best was not involved in the altercation but in the video, the former Marine stands behind Namkai-Meche, appearing ready to help if necessary.

“Hey, (expletive) off, boy,” Fletcher shouts as he pushes Christian away and steps between him and Namkai-Meche. He pushes Christian a few more times, knocking him onto some seats.

“Get off of me. Go on, get,” Fletcher says repeatedly, trying to get Christian to leave the train.

Credit: The Oregonian via AP

Credit: The Oregonian via AP

According to testimony, that was when Christian stabbed Fletcher. The Oregonian blurred the videos at that point, but people can be heard screaming as Christian’s violent attack begins.

Fletcher testified that he stepped up against Christian because Namkai-Meche didn't look like a fighter.

"I stepped forward to reassert myself, I believe, Jeremy -- I thought he was going to grab Tilly (Namkai-Meche) and hit him, at that point I grabbed him by the collar, shoulder of his shirt and moved him away," Fletcher said, according to KATU.

A prosecutor asked him about Christian’s response to his intervention.

“He responded by stabbing me in the throat,” Fletcher said.

Fletcher, who said he initially thought he had been punched, was stabbed in the jugular vein. A doctor testified that the young man was lucky to be alive, the news station reported.

The Oregonian reported that Namkai-Meche never put his hands on Christian during the fight. A reporter who watched the uncensored videos in court said Namkai-Meche was inspecting his cellphone, which he had picked up from the floor, when Christian plunged his knife into Fletcher's neck just below his jaw.

Namkai-Meche looked up just as Christian stabbed him in the neck, the newspaper reported. A detective testified that video shows the victim had his phone in one hand and a food container in the other, making him unable to defend himself.

Fletcher recalled believing he was going to die after being stabbed. He called his mother to tell her he loved her.

He said he stepped in to help Namkai-Meche that day because he believed it was the right thing to do.

"I didn't save him," he said. "I really wanted to and couldn't. I just wasn't strong enough."

‘I can die in prison a happy man’

Namkai-Meche was stabbed immediately after Fletcher, suffering wounds in the neck, face and hands, the Oregonian reported. Video shows him falling back onto some seats and grabbing his neck.

Christian then reaches forward and grabs Best, who had stepped forward to intervene in the attack, the probable cause affidavit says. He stabs Best in the neck and face and pushes the mortally wounded man into Namkai-Meche, who is trying to stem the flow of blood from his own neck.

He then stabs both men again, the affidavit says. Video shows Best fall to the floor, the newspaper reported.

Christian stabbed the men 11 times in 11 seconds, according to the APKATU reported that the attack on Best was so violent that he lost a molar and had a fractured vertebra.

A bone in Fletcher’s face was fractured, the news station said. Good Samaritans on the train platform helped save his life by applying pressure to his neck wound, which the affidavit says was millimeters away from being fatal.

Read the probable cause affidavit in Jeremy Christian’s case below. 

The cellphone footage from the train shows several passengers working to staunch the flow of blood from the men's injuries. Fletcher can be seen sitting on the train platform, leaning against a metal post as a man holds a pink children's jacket to his neck.

That man, former Army infantryman Marcus Knipe, testified that he helped Fletcher to the ground and helped him call his mother as they tried to keep the college student from bleeding to death, according to KATU. Knipe said he warned Fletcher not to let his mother know how badly he was injured.

"You can tell her you were hurt and you're going to be OK, but if she knows exactly what happened, there's nothing she could do." Knipe recalled saying. "She may get hysterical, which might be bad for you. Keep it calm as much as you can."

Meanwhile, passengers stepped in on the train to help Best and Namkai-Meche. Morgan Noonan, a former Army medic, testified that he tried to help but knew the men were not going to make it.

"He was expiring rapidly. Very fast," Noonan said of Best, according to KATU.

Noonan explained that “waves of (the man’s) blood were running down the aisle toward (him),” the news station said.

"Like you would see when a wave finishes hitting the ocean, the sandbar. It was lapping down the aisle," Noonan said. "So I knew every time his heartbeat, that he was bleeding to death."

Watch cellphone video of the fatal altercation, and its aftermath, below. Warning: The video contains graphic images and explicit language. 

The severity of the injuries could be seen even in the blurred videos made public by the Oregonian.

“Oh my God,” a woman wails in the cellphone video as several men crouch over a victim lying on the floor of the train car. The victim, who was apparently Best, lay in a pool of blood rapidly spreading out from under his body.

As he fled, Christian threatened other passengers on and off the train.

"Who else wants some?" Christian shouts as he flees the platform in the video.

Witnesses testified about following Christian, who they said they saw using soda to wash the blood from his hands. He was arrested a few blocks from the train station.

Another passenger on the train that day, George Tschaggeny, was later arrested and charged with abuse of a corpse for stealing Best's backpack and wedding ring as he lay dead or dying on the floor of the train car. Tschaggeny, a 51-year-old homeless drug addict, was sentenced in November 2017 to 13 months in prison, KATU reported.

Photos and videos shared on social media in the days after the murders showed that Christian had recently spoken at a rally hosted by Patriot Prayer, a right-wing group whose rallies had been causing tension in the city, the AP reported. Footage captured him making the Nazi salute while wearing an American flag around his neck and holding a baseball bat.

Christian wrote on his Facebook profile that Portland had become too politically correct, threatening his right to free speech. He cited his free speech rights when he told the judge on the first day of his trial that he would wear his jail uniform instead of a suit, which he felt would be lying to the jurors.

"I don't care how much time I spend in prison," he told the judge, according to the AP. "All I care about is the public gets to see and hear what happened on the train."

Christian’s defense team argued that their client stabbed Namkai-Meche and Fletcher in self-defense after he felt cornered by the men.

"There's no way I can explain what happened," Christian told detectives after his arrest, according to a transcript read at trial. "Except both of those people would be alive if they'd kept their hands to themselves. Or got off the train or allowed me to have my free speech.

See the video of Jeremy Christian’s comments following his arrest below. Warning: The video contains graphic language. 

“It’s only because they decided to get violent with me that they signed their own death warrant, and I couldn’t feel one bit sorry or remorseful about that.”

Video and audio from the patrol car in which Christian was placed also captured his thoughts on what he’d done, the probable cause affidavit says.

“I just stabbed a bunch of (expletives) in their neck,” he said. “Just a punk (expletive) bunch of (expletives). Get stabbed in your neck if you hate free speech.”

He also said he was happy and could “rest easy.”

“I can die in prison a happy man,” Christian said, according to the document. “I’m all good.”

He asked officers if they thought he stabbed people in the neck for fun.

“Oh yeah, you’re right, I do. I’m a patriot,” Christian said. “That’s what liberalism gets you.

“I hope they all die. I’m gonna say that on the stand. I’m a patriot and I hope everyone I stabbed died.”

Video of Christian’s tirade after his arrest was also shown to the jury.

Fletcher left the courthouse Friday without comment but his father, Michael Fletcher, told reporters that his son is doing well. He expressed gratitude to the jurors on his son’s behalf, saying he felt that justice had been served.

"He's just trying to put his life back together and kind of move forward," Michael Fletcher said.

Mohamed and Mangum, the girls initially targeted by Christian, weren't in the courtroom for the verdict, the Oregonian reported. Mangum's mother, Dyjuana Hudson, was, and she called the girls from the courthouse, later saying that both were happy with the outcome. The newspaper reported that Mohamed testified during the trial that she no longer wears a hijab in public out of fear for her safety.

"It's been a long emotional ride ... very hard for them," Hudson said. "They're getting over it. They're taking the steps necessary to heal properly. They're doing better."

Christian was initially charged with aggravated murder, which made him eligible for the death penalty, but Oregon legislators in 2019 passed a law that narrowed the definition of the crime.

His sentencing hearing is set to begin Feb. 25, according to Underhill's office. According to the Oregonian, he faces up to life in prison.

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