A person accused of fatally stabbing two people that prosecutors say tried to prevent his racist tirade against two young black women on a Portland, Oregon, commuter train was convicted of murder Friday after an emotional trial that featured testimony from both women and therefore the sole survivor of the attack nearly three years ago.
Jurors found Jeremy Christian, 37, guilty of the deaths of Taliesin Namkai-Meche and Ricky Best. He also was convicted of attempted murder for stabbing survivor Micah Fletcher and assault and menacing for shouting slurs and throwing a bottle at a Black woman on another light rail train the day before the May 26, 2017, stabbings.
A judge last year dismissed charges of aggravated murder — which carries a possible death sentence — due to a replacement Oregon law that narrows the definition of aggravated murder.
These are the victims.
Ricky Best, a veteran and father, died.
So did Taliesin Namkai-Meche, an Ashland native and Reed College alum.
Micah Fletcher, within the middle, survived. He testified about calling his mom moments after he was stabbed and telling her he loved her.
The stabbings’ racial undertones shook Portland, which prides itself on its liberal and progressive reputation but also grapples with a racist past that included limits on where black families could live and a neo-Nazi community so entrenched that the town was once nicknamed “Skinhead City.” The deaths also came weeks after a black teen was run down and killed by a supremacist during a Portland suburb shop parking zone — a case that also grabbed headlines.
In the days after the stabbing, photos and video surfaced showing that Christian had recently attended — and spoken at — a rally hosted by a far-right group called Patriot Prayer, whose periodic political events were already causing tension within the city. He was captured on camera making the Nazi salute while wearing an American flag around his neck and holding a lumber .
On Facebook, his prolific posts slammed Portland as an area so correctness that his right to free speech was constantly under assault. Those beliefs were front and center within the courtroom, too, when Christian told the judge on the primary day of trial that he would wear his jail-issued blue uniform rather than a suit because to try to to otherwise would be like lying.
“I don’t care what proportion time I spend in prison,” he said. “All I care about is that the public gets to ascertain and listen to what happened on the train.”
According to prosecutors, Christian boarded the train during the evening commute on May 26, 2017, and commenced shouting racist, anti-Muslim and xenophobic slurs at the 2 young black women. One was an immigrant from Somalia and wore a Muslim headscarf. Some witnesses said Christian in his outburst made a slicing motion across his neck and mentioned decapitating people.
As his tirade continued, Christian grabbed Namkai-Meche’s cellphone and threw it to the bottom. Defense attorneys argued that Namkai-Meche had first approached Christian and was trying to film the tirade, which made him feel cornered.
Authorities say another passenger, Fletcher, stood up to intervene and got into a shoving match with Christian, who was taunting the lads to “do something” to prevent him.
Christian then took out a 4-inch folding knife and stabbed Fletcher and Namkai-Meche, prosecutors said. Authorities say he also stabbed a 3rd passenger, Ricky Best, who was standing nearby. Namkai-Meche and Best died at the scene of stab wounds to the neck. Fletcher was seriously injured but survived.
Christian stabbed the lads 11 times in 11 seconds. He would later tell a court-appointed psychologist during psychological state evaluation that he felt like he was on “auto-pilot,” consistent with court records.
He was arrested a couple of blocks away.
Christian’s defense attorneys Gregory Scholl and Dean Smith argued that Christian had acted in self-defense and felt threatened by Namkai-Meche and Fletcher. An witness for the defense testified that Fletcher, especially , escalated things by getting within 6 feet of Christian moments before Christian pulled out his knife.
During trial, detective Michelle Michaels read from a transcript of Christian’s comments shortly after he was arrested.
“There’s no way I can explain what happened,” he said. “Except both of these people would be alive if they’d kept their hands to themselves. Or got off the train or allowed me to possess my free speech.”