The highest-profile murder trial in recent Oregon history—that of accused MAX train killer Jeremy Christian—opened Jan. 28 on a combative note.
"Are you ready to smash Portland's fairy tale?" Christian said as he was escorted into the courtroom where he's being tried for the murder of Ricky Best and Taliesin Namkai-Meche, and the attempted murder of Michah Fletcher.
Christian's defense attorney Dean Smith argued that Christian acted in self defense in stabbing the three men, who Smith described as "the three attackers."
"When the odds are against you, you defend yourself," Smith said. "Of course the law allows Mr. Christian to defend himself. He was physically attacked when someone tried to shove him off the MAX. He had a right to defend himself."
Smith then accused Fletcher of committing a felony for attempting to shove Christian off the train before Christian pulled out his knife.
"Mr. Fletcher did not have the right to assault Mr. Christian," Smith said.
The family of the victims appeared visibly upset while the defense made its case. A few got up to leave.
State prosecutors seemed to anticipate this argument from the defense. "If self defense is raised," said prosecutor Donald Rees prior to the defense's opening arguments, "the state will prove beyond a reasonable doubt that it does not apply to Jeremy Christian."
During opening arguments, the defense displayed a photo of a WW cover from May 24, 2017—which featured a story about increasing violence between political protesters. The cover, published two days before the stabbings, depicted a masked left-wing protester dressed in "clown bloc," which is dressing like a clown with the intention to mock adversaries.
Smith went on to explain how Fletcher had counter-protested at a right-wing "free speech" rally depicted in the photo, wearing a clown nose with the intention to antagonize right-wing protesters. (Christian also attended this event, where he drew attention to himself for wearing an American flag as a cape.)
The defense did not go in-depth into the meaning behind showing this image, but appeared to be planting a seed for future hearings where they may argue that the MAX train stabbings could be interpreted as an outpouring of mutual political hostilities—some sort of antifa v. alt-right brawl.
The prosecution, on the other hand, argued that Christian is guilty on every charge, and that he intentionally killed Best and Namkai-Meche and attempted to kill Fletcher.
"He knew what he was doing, he intended to do it, and he feels justified in doing it," Rees said. "He [left] behind the dead, the dying, and the injured."
Three witnesses testified on the trial's first day, including Walia Mohamed, 20, who was one of the two girls Christian began yelling at on the MAX train. Mohamed was wearing a hijab at the time of the attack, and said she felt like Christian was directing his rant towards her because of her religion.
"I remember him saying, 'Fuck Muslims,' saying, "Go back to Saudi Arabia.' He was saying 'Kill yourself,'" Mohamed said on the witness stand, through tears. "I was scared. I didn't know what to do."
Mohamed said she still suffers PTSD from the event, and that she no longer wears her hijab in public. "It's like reliving it every day," Mohamed said.
Attorneys also questioned Destinee Mangum, 18, who was traveling with Mohamed on the MAX train when the incident occurred.
Mangum said through tears that she felt she and Mohamed were the targets of Christian's vitriol.
"He kept bringing up death. He kept saying 'Die' and 'Go back to where you came from,'" Mangum said. "His face just looked like—he seemed very angry and mad. It made me feel like, 'I need to get away from him.' Because it looked as if he wanted to hurt somebody."
Prosecuting attorney Jeffrey Howes asked Mangum if Christian appeared as though he was trying to defend himself from an attack.
"No," Mangum said. "It feels like he was trying to start something."
Howes then asked Mangum if she had any confusion about who started the altercation.
"No," Mangum said. "Because I know who started it: Jeremy."