Judge In Jeremy Christian Trial May Consider 'Enhancing Factors' In Sentencing

By Meerah Powell (OPB)
Feb. 25, 2020 8:30 p.m.

UPDATE (Feb. 25, 4:31 p.m. PT) — The jury in the Jeremy Christian trial is slated to return to the courtroom Tuesday afternoon for the beginning of a two-day "sentence enhancement" hearing, during which they'll decide on "enhancement factors" to help inform Multnomah County Circuit Court Judge Cheryl Albrecht's decision on Christian's prison sentence.

Albrecht has not yet scheduled a sentencing date for Christian.

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Related: Jeremy Christian Found Guilty On All Charges

Christian was convicted on two counts of first-degree murder Friday. A jury also found Christian guilty on 10 other counts related to a stabbing attack on a Portland MAX train that left two people dead and one injured May 26, 2017, and an assault on a black woman, Demetria Hester, the night prior to the attack.

According to Senate Bill 1013, a court must sentence a person convicted of first-degree murder to life in prison for a minimum of 30 years without the possibility of parole if the person was at least 15 years old when they committed the murder.

The law states a court may sentence someone to “true life,” or life in prison without any possibility of parole, if the person was at least 18 years old at the time of the murder and if the court states the reasons for imposing the sentence.

Christian was 35 when he murdered Taliesin Namkai-Meche and Ricky Best and attempted to murder Micah Fletcher in 2017.

Still, Christian’s defense attorneys Dean Smith and Greg Scholl filed a motion with the court Monday looking to limit the maximum possible sentence for Christian to no more than life with a 30-year minimum.

“The SB 1013 scheme provides no constitutionally sound mechanism for imposing on Mr. Christian a sentence of any greater sentence than life with a mandatory minimum term of 30 years,” the defense’s motion reads.

The defense also said the law gives no direction on jury findings of sentence enhancement factors.

Prosecuting attorneys Don Rees and Jeff Howes said the law also doesn’t disallow these jury findings.

Prosecutors are requesting jury findings for all of Christian’s 12 convictions on the following factors:

  • The probability that the defendant cannot be rehabilitated is high.
  • The defendant's crimes were precipitated by his unreasonable racial and religious bias.
  • The defendant demonstrated no remorse for his acts.
  • The defendant's acts demonstrated his callous disregard for the value of human life.
  • The defendant is likely to commit future acts of violence.
  • The defendant was at least 18 years old when the murders were committed.
Those jury findings could influence Judge Albrecht’s sentencing.
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The prosecution called witnesses Tuesday afternoon to argue in favor of those sentencing factors, including a parole and probation officer who supervised Christian, a Multnomah County Sheriff’s Office deputy and an investigator for the Multnomah County district attorney’s office.

Christopher Whitlow, a parole and probation officer in Multnomah County, supervised Christian after he was released in 2011 from a gun possession conviction.

Whitlow described Christian as having a “pro-criminal, pro-violence belief system.”

Whitlow said a person with that belief system “doesn’t seem to recognize their behavior is problematic.”

In a report he wrote at the time, Whitlow said he thought Christian had the potential for future violence.

Jeremy Christian, right, listens to testimony during his murder trial at the Multnomah County Courthouse on Wednesday, Feb. 12, 2020. Christian announced Wednesday he would not take the stand in his own defense.

Jeremy Christian, right, listens to testimony during his murder trial at the Multnomah County Courthouse on Wednesday, Feb. 12, 2020. Christian announced Wednesday he would not take the stand in his own defense.

Beth Nakamura / The Oregonian/OregonLive/Pool

Multnomah County Sheriff’s Office Corrections Deputy Ryan Cook also testified about an incident in June 2017 after Christian was incarcerated for the MAX stabbings.

Cook said Christian used a racial slur against an African American sergeant and used a homophobic slur against him.

Prosecutors also submitted various letters Christian had written to people after the stabbing — including one to a website called Murder Museum. Christian's letter to the website's owner was listed for sale for $250 last November.

Steven Ober, a district attorney investigator for the Multnomah County district attorney’s office, gave testimony about the letters including another Christian had written to a woman in Texas in which he calls Demetria Hester a “racist Black bitch.”

Christian assaulted Hester the night prior to the MAX stabbings in 2017 on another MAX train.

In addition to reviewing letters to and from Christian, Ober also reviewed phone calls Christian made and received.

During one of the calls, Christian talks about Fletcher — the surviving victim of the stabbing attack.

Christian references that Fletcher was diagnosed as being on the autism spectrum and had talked about being bullied growing up.

“Apparently that rubbed off on him,” Christian said of Fletcher in the phone call, “because he decided to bully me, but that didn't work out that well for him.”

The jury will continue hearing witness testimony Wednesday before it makes a decision regarding the sentencing factors.

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