The Multnomah County District Attorney’s Office filed a motion Tuesday that effectively takes the death penalty off the table for Jeremy Christian, the man charged with stabbing three people, killing two of them on-board a Portland light rail train in 2017.

A judge would still need to sign off on the proposed change.

Jeremy Christian listens during a hearing in a Multnomah County courtroom in Portland, Ore., on Friday, May 3, 2019. Christian was in court seeking a delay in the beginning of his trial while the state considers changes to its death penalty law.

Jeremy Christian listens during a hearing in a Multnomah County courtroom in Portland, Ore., on Friday, May 3, 2019. Christian was in court seeking a delay in the beginning of his trial while the state considers changes to its death penalty law.

Laurie Isola/OPB

Christian had been charged with two counts of aggravated murder and one count of attempted aggravated murder stemming from the alleged stabbing May 26, 2017, that left Taliesin Namkai-Meche and Ricky Best dead and a third train passenger, Micah Fletcher, badly wounded.

In court papers, prosecutors sought to amend three charges from their original indictment to reflect changes in state law that drastically limit who is eligible for the death penalty in Oregon. The aggravated murder charges would become first-degree murder and the attempted aggravated murder charge would become attempted first-degree murder.

“In the present case, the suggested changes do not alter the essential nature of the indictment against the defendant, alter the availability to him of defenses or evidence, and do not add a theory, element or crimes,” Jeff Howes, first assistant to the district attorney, wrote in the court filing.

On Sept. 29, a new Oregon law went into effect that narrows the definition of aggravated murder, the state’s only capital charge. Senate Bill 1013 was the product of a Democratic supermajority in the Oregon Legislature and was fought vigorously by district attorneys.

SB 1013 limited the death penalty to murder cases of children younger than 14 or murders of law enforcement officers, terrorist attacks that kill at least two people, and prison killings carried out by someone who has previously been convicted of murder.

A memorial at the Hollywood Transit Center in honor of those killed in the 2017 stabbings aboard a TriMet MAX train.

A memorial at the Hollywood Transit Center in honor of those killed in the 2017 stabbings aboard a TriMet MAX train.

Bryan M. Vance

“It is clear from the language of SB 1013, and the discussions that were held in front of the Oregon Senate Judiciary Committee … the legislature’s intent was to drastically reduce the types of murderous activity that could qualify as Aggravated Murder and to create a statutory scheme that would capture most of those activities (formerly captured by the Aggravated Murder statute) and label such activities as Murder in the First Degree,” Howes wrote.

Christian’s defense attorneys filed motions earlier this month asking the aggravated murder charges be dismissed and the death penalty taken off the table as a sentencing option because of the new state law. 

“SB 1013 gives a new definition for Aggravated Murder and is based on elements not pleaded in the present case,” Christian’s defense attorneys wrote in an Oct. 1 court filing. “Therefore, there is no legal basis for the State to proceed against defendant on Aggravated Murder in the present case.”

An analysis by OPB published earlier this month, found at least 43 open cases included one or more charges of aggravated murder, the state’s only death-eligible crime. Under the now narrower definition of the law, though, OPB found just one of those cases appears certain to proceed as an aggravated murder charge.

Christian is next scheduled to appear in court Friday, Nov. 1, where the judge could rule on motions filed by prosecutors and the defense.