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Closing Arguments To Begin In Portland Light Rail Train Murders

Feb 19, 2020
Originally published on February 19, 2020 8:24 am
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NOEL KING, HOST:

A jury in Portland, Ore., will hear closing arguments today in the trial of a man who's accused of stabbing and killing two people on a light rail train after delivering a racist hate-filled rant in 2017. Conrad Wilson from Oregon Public Broadcasting reports that these killings happened at a time when the country was learning about a rise in hate crimes.

CONRAD WILSON, BYLINE: For weeks, witnesses have relived the brutal killings that took place on a Portland light rail train on May 26, 2017. It began with Jeremy Christian on a racist diatribe directed at two black teens, one of whom was wearing a hijab.

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DESTINEE MANGUM: He told us to die...

WILSON: Destinee Mangum testified that Christian was focused on her and her friend.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

MANGUM: ...And that we don't deserve to be here and that we should just go back to where we came from.

WILSON: As the situation on the train escalated, some passengers intervened. The confrontation, captured on cellphones and security cameras, turned physical.

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UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: ...And I need to go home.

(CROSSTALK)

WILSON: One of the passengers was Micah Fletcher. He testified he told Christian to stop and tried to get him off the train. Christian responded by stabbing Fletcher in the neck with a knife, a scene jurors have watched play out on videos.

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MICAH FLETCHER: I thought he punched me, and I was getting to put my hands up to guard for another one, and then I noticed there was blood on my fingers. I was like, that's odd.

WILSON: Christian stabbed and killed two other men. Prosecutors say the attack lasted about 12 seconds. The killings garnered national attention, in part because they occurred as hate crimes were on the rise and amid concerns about emboldened white supremacists. The defense does not dispute that Christian killed two men. They've sought to paint him as mentally unstable and say he was acting in self-defense. Defense witness Glena Andrews is a psychology professor at George Fox University in Newberg, Ore. She testified Christian's brain has issues with executive functioning.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

GLENA ANDREWS: How his brain works to make decisions, to function in the world, to assess his surroundings is not where we would expect it to be.

WILSON: During cross-examination, Andrews conceded that Christian's condition isn't a professionally recognized mental illness. Meanwhile, prosecutors have assured jurors the case is as simple as it appears in the videos of the stabbings. If convicted of murder, Christian could face life in prison. Jurors will begin their deliberations this week after closing arguments.

For NPR News, I'm Conrad Wilson in Portland.

(SOUNDBITE OF SLUSHII'S "SAPIENT DREAM") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.