A man yelled “F—- Muslims” at two teen girls, one of whom was wearing a hijab, on a Portland light rail train in 2017 before stabbing three men who tried to intervene to stop the hate-filled tirade, one of the teens said in emotional testimony Tuesday. Jeremy Christian, 37, is charged with first-degree murder in the deaths of Ricky Best, 53, and Taliesin Namkai-Meche, 23. The 2017 attack shook the liberal city to its core.
Christian is also charged with attempted first-degree murder in the serious wounding of the third passenger, Micah Fletcher, who was 21 at the time.
Members of the victims’ families cried as Christian’s trial launched in Portland Tuesday with graphic opening statements that included video of the deadly attack. The two teens who were targeted in Christian’s tirade also took the stand, both crying as they recalled Christian’s words.
“He was saying, ‘F—- Muslims, go back to Saudi Arabia,'” said Walia Mohamed, the teen who was wearing a hijab.
Mohamed, who has told news outlets she is a Somali immigrant, paused to compose herself and dabbed her tears with a tissue. “He said, ‘Kill yourself.'”
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, of Portland, also faces lesser charges of intimidation in the tirade.
Prosecutor Don Rees told jurors that no one on the train realized 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. Mohamed said she and her friend Destinee Magnum, who are both black, didn’t realize that Christian had a knife until they saw him stab Namkai-Meche. She said they ran, terrified.
“I thought he was gonna come after us and kill us too … because of all the hateful things he was saying about Muslim people,” Mohamed said.
Mohamed said she had never experienced racism before. She has been quoted in the book “American Hate: Survivors Speak Out” as saying she still practices her Muslim faith but no longer wears her hijab because she doesn’t feel safe.
“I was born and raised in Portland, Oregon,” Magnum said on the stand Tuesday, sobbing. “So like, I don’t feel like I should go somewhere else, I don’t feel like I have to go back to where I came from because I’m born here. It just made me feel like, ‘Why?’ There’s no reason.”
In the 2018 interview with KOIN, Magnum expressed gratitude to the men who came to their defense, and paid with their lives. “I just want them to know I appreciate them for giving their lives for me, not even knowing me.”
Christian has pleaded not guilty to all charges and defense attorneys have argued 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 teens. 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.
On Wednesday, witnesses who tried to help the victims described “mayhem” after the attack, reports KOIN. Morgan Noonan, a former Army medic, said Best and Namkai-Meche “were bleeding profusely…the same bleeding when a soldier gets shot or maimed.”
Noonan said Best was hyperventilating forcefully and “the color was leaving his body.”
“Waves of his blood were running down the aisle towards me,” Noonan said.
The trial is expected to last until the end of February.