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MAX Train Killer Jeremy Christian “Barely Conscious” During Attack, Says Defense Psychiatrist

The psychiatric evaluation claims one of the biggest stresses facing Christian the day of the May 26 attacks was his mother's plan to remove his 15,000 comic books from her house.

Call it the Comic Book Defense.

A psychiatric evaluation of MAX train killer Jeremy Christian of behalf of his defense team pushes back on the description of Christian as a white supremacist—instead painting a portrait a conspiracy theorist with few social skills, who hoarded comic books and got a thrill out of blurting politically and racially offensive statements.

The evaluation was uncovered by the Portland Tribune. In it, Seattle psychologist Mark Cunningham argues that Christian was emotionally crippled by eight years in prison, and reverted to prison-yard "fight or flight" rules when three men confronted him on the train.

He told the psychologist that he was "on auto-pilot" during the attack, and when he watched the video of the incident he was surprised to see that the events did not unfold how he remembered them.

Cunningham recorded Christian's memory of the attack: "Mr. Christian recalled that he was barely conscious of his actions until he heard people yelling: 'He's stabbing them! He's killing them!' He recalled then realizing that there was no immediate threat – 'snapping out of a fight or flight response.'"

The evaluation suggests the clearest picture yet of the defense team's strategy to avoid the death penalty in Christian's trial. Cunningham leaves a formal diagnosis pending, but suggests that Christian does suffer from some level of socialization disorder and a hoarding disorder.

"In many important respects, he did not 'grow up,'" writes Cunningham. "Consistent with this observation, one of his female friends characterized that Mr. Christian was like a 'big kid'—still focused on 'comic books and superheroes.'"

In fact, writes Cunningham, one of the biggest stresses facing Christian the day of the May 26 attacks was his mother's plan to remove his 15,000 comic books from her house.

Christian exhibited "difficulty recognizing, understanding, and anticipating the emotions, needs, agendas, and reactions of others," Cunningham wrote. His deficiencies left him unable to meet "expected adult roles" like getting a driver's license, holding down a job, living on his own, or pursuing romantic relationships.

At 20, Christian robbed a convenience store where he was a well-known patron. He held on to the stolen goods and pulled out a gun when the police caught up to him. An officer shot Christian in the face.

He served eight years in prison, which exacerbated his anti-social behaviors, according to Cunningham's evaluation. Christian told Cunningham that he was determined "not to participate in a society where I was marginalized" as an "ex-con." He told Cunningham that he did not want to get a job where he would have to pay taxes.

Instead of getting stable work, Christian sold and traded comic books in front of Powell's bookstore in downtown Portland. He had collected nearly 15,000 comics —and Cunningham asserts that Christian's heightened stress on the days leading up to the attack on the MAX train started when Christian's mother demanded that he box up the collection and move it out of her home and into storage.

Christian became obsessed with the right to free speech, Cunningham wrote, and exercising that right was one of the only activities that he engaged in on a consistent basis. He told the psychologist about times when he would yell offensive sentiments outside of Powell's while selling comics just to get a rise out of the customers coming in and out of the store.

He also told Cunningham that he would sometimes drink alcohol, ride the MAX and "talk politics" to see if he could "get someone's goat." That is what Christian claims he was doing on May 26.

But the other passengers on the train reacted more than Christian had ever seen in the past.

The evaluation describes the incident in detail:

"Mr. Christian reported that at that point the whole MAX was in an uproar, telling him that he could not say that. He described that he had never gotten that degree of reaction before. Mr. Christian reported that previously one person might engage in arguing with him, but not a whole MAX car. Despite this uproar and its potential escalation, Mr. Christian described that he dropped his 'bomb,' loudly announcing: 'You guys want to hear my plan for world peace? If you want world peace, all you have to do is get one billion Christians and one billion Muslims to kill each other, then all the Jews will kill themselves because they will have no one left to manipulate!'"

Christian's account of the attack breaks with the consensus narrative here. He denied to Cunningham that any of his offensive comments were directed at the two teenage girls who had been on the train and were the widely reported targets of his hateful rant.

Cunningham reports in the evaluation that Christian's family and friends did not notice any signs of white supremacy and that Christian had told him that "persons holding beliefs that one group, race, religion, or political system is superior are the fundamental problem with fascism, communism, and monotheism – leading to intolerance, war, and genocide."

The evaluation will likely face pushback from prosecutors in court.