PORTLAND, Ore. — The public defenders representing Jeremy Christian are gearing up for a possible death penalty case.

Inside the Portland office of Metropolitan Public Defender Services, Executive Director Lane Borg knows his staff is taking on one of its highest-profile cases in a long time.

“These are all horrible cases,” he said. But said that won't keep the lawyers from doing their job.

“Lawyers in my office — staff in my office — really believe they're making society better by holding the government to a higher standard, by saying, 'You don't get an easy pass, you don’t get to just convict someone,' " Bog said. "We don’t lynch people in the streets anymore and drag them out because we feel passionately strong about that."

BACKGROUND: Portland MAX attack: What we know

There is no denying that passion and evidence appear to be plentiful in this case. Court documents show the brutal stabbings on the MAX train were caught on video, along with Christian’s confession in the patrol car after the attack.

“What physically happened, the movement of people, what you see on camera, is only part of the equation in a criminal case,” Borg said.

The defense lawyers and their investigators will try to find facts that might alter the perception of what the video captured.

“Somebody can commit the physical act of killing another person, a homicide," Borg said. "But if their mental state is such that they have a belief certain things are going on — that something is happening to them — that can raise certain defenses, like self defense,” he said.

Borg said the lawyers don't know if they’ll go after an insanity defense. He pointed out that they don't even have an indictment.

But he suspects the indictment will charge Christian with aggravated murder, making it a death-penalty case under Oregon law.

Borg said there are more than a dozen aggravating factors in a killing that can kick it up to aggravated murder.

“Killing a law enforcement officer. Killing a witness in a crime. I believe the one that they will use in this case — there may be others — but will be that there are multiple victims in a criminal episode,” Borg said.

He added that if Christian faces the death penalty, his team is required to look back two generations in Christian’s family to find mental illness or other issues that would explain his actions.

The guidelines for lawyers handling death penalty cases is 178 pages long, Borg said, which is why it will likely be a year or more before Christian goes to trial.


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