Defense attorneys for the man accused of stabbing three men on TriMet MAX train last year tried with limited success Monday to exclude evidence and terms that they argued would deny Jeremy Christian a fair trial.
Prosecutors and defense lawyers are working their way through more than 50 motions during several days of pretrial hearings. Lawyers for Jeremy Christian want to limit how much jurors will hear and see.
“This would also include family members testifying as to a victim’s personal characteristics and background,” Gregory Scholl, one of Christian’s lawyers, told the judge Monday during arguments over one motion. “It includes testimony on the emotional impact of the crime on surviving family members, personal problems of surviving family members, and the inability to forgive the person who allegedly committed the crime.”
Multnomah County Judge Cheryl Albrecht is overseeing the trial, which is set for late June 2019.
Christian, who is in pretrial custody, was escorted into court Monday by Multnomah deputies. His hair, long when he was arrested after the TriMet attack, was buzzed short, and he wore blue jail scrubs labeled “2XL.”
At times during Monday morning’s hearing, Christian spoke quietly with his attorneys. He didn’t make any of the outbursts that have punctuated earlier court proceedings.
Prosecutors said his lawyers should have to make a case for each piece of evidence they object to, rather than being granted a more sweeping restriction.
“To the extent that they’re trying to make a blanket objection to all evidence, that’s not an objection that should be sustained,” Deputy District Attorney Ryan Lufkin told the judge. “Counsel should come forward with specific objections to specific evidence and for a reason that can be responded to.”
Judge Albrecht denied the defense’s motion.
Christian has pleaded not guilty to a 15-count indictment that includes two counts of aggravated murder and one count of attempted murder. In Oregon, aggravated murder carries a potential sentence of death.
Prosecutors say Christian shouted racist remarks at two girls on a TriMet train on the afternoon of May 26, 2017. One of the girls wore a hijab.
As Christian grew increasingly agitated, passengers intervened and confronted Christian, police have said.
Police say Christian then stabbed three victims in the neck and head 11 times in 11 seconds.
Taliesin Namkai-Meche and Ricky Best died in the attack. Portland State University student Micah Fletcher was injured but survived.
On Monday in court, the defense also sought to limit language used at trial.
Scholl asked the judge to prevent prosecutors or witnesses from referring to any deceased person as a “victim” and any death as a “murder.”
Albrecht said she needed to do more research on what higher courts have said about using “victim.” But she agreed “murder” should not be used as shorthand for other terms.
“For the prosecution it should be used sparingly when needed for a specific, relevant purpose and should not be used to replace the term ‘death’ or ‘killing,’” Albrecht said.
Christian’s defense also tried to limit what they said would be photographs and video that could, taken cumulatively, hurt Christian’s chances of a fair trial.
But prosecutors said much of their evidence, while graphic, is necessary.
“Many of those are going to be highly relevant to the capabilities of this defendant — his intent, his motive, the precision of which he struck his blows onto the exact portions on the victim’s neck that caused the highest degree of fatality are extremely relevant pieces of evidence,” Lufkin said. “I don’t see a place where that evidence could be reasonably be excluded.”
Judge Albrecht denied that defense motion, too, though she indicated she would be paying close attention to which images and videos jurors see.
“I’m denying the motion in the sense that I’m automatically going to limit photographs or other graphic evidence, videos in the way the defense suggests,” she said.
Pre-trial hearings are scheduled to run through Wednesday.