Prosecutors: Death penalty off the table in train stabbings

Jeremy Christian listens during a hearing in Portland on May 3, 2019. Christian was in court seeking a delay in the beginning of his trial while the state considered changes to its death penalty law.(Laurie Isola/OPB)

PORTLAND — Prosecutors have filed a motion that effectively takes the death penalty off the table for the man charged with stabbing three people, killing two of them, aboard a Portland light rail train in 2017.

Oregon Public Broadcasting reports a judge would still need to sign off on the proposed change filed Tuesday by the Multnomah County District Attorney’s Office.

Jeremy Christian had been charged with two counts of aggravated murder and one count of attempted aggravated murder stemming from the 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.

The measure 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.

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

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