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Self-defense and insanity plea: What to expect as Jeremy Christian's defense lawyers start their arguments Monday

After seven days of the state presenting their evidence, Jeremy Christian's defense lawyers take their turn to defend their client starting Monday, Feb. 10.

PORTLAND, Ore. — The lawyers for Jeremy Christian, the man accused of stabbing three men aboard a MAX train in 2017, are set to present their arguments and witnesses starting Monday, Feb. 10.

Christian is being represented by Dean Smith and Greg Scholl of Metropolitan Public Defenders. KGW has reached out to them for an interview, but hasn't heard back. 

Christian is accused of going on a hateful rant aimed at two black teen girls aboard that TriMet MAX train on May 26, 2017. An altercation followed between Christian and two other men, Fletcher and Taliesin Namkai-Meche, and quickly escalated as the three men were chest-to-chest. 

Fletcher shoved Christian twice, and Christian told him, "Hit me again, hit me again." Prosecutors say Christian took a 4-inch knife from the pocket of his shorts and stabbed Fletcher, Namkai-Meche and another passenger, Ricky Best. 

Best and Namkai-Meche died. Fletcher was gravely wounded, but survived. The knife barely missed a main artery that would have killed him. 

RELATED: 'I pushed him...he responded by stabbing me in the throat': Jeremy Christian trial, Day 6

Christian is facing a slew of charges, including two counts of first-degree murder. His lawyers are using a "guilty except for insanity" defense. 

His lawyers argue he suffers from autism spectrum disorder and other issues, and claimed he has a diminished mental capacity and couldn’t have fully known what he was doing.

Some of the defense’s witnesses, the judge noted, are flying in from out of town.
Christian’s lawyers made it clear in opening statements they plan to call mental health experts to the stand to testify about Christian's mental health and about the effects of extreme stress and trauma on the brain.

According to Oregon law, they would be required to prove Christian has an accepted mental health defect, like schizophrenia or schizoid personality. 

KGW has asked several legal experts not directly involved in the case to give their insights about the trial. 

"In reading some of the things from the press about his conduct and also seen some clips on news briefs, I don't see him as somebody who is up there in the high end of any type of mental disorder. I see more of a personality disorder, which does not mean insane. It actually in the statute says it's not insane. You can't use that as an insanity defense," retired Multnomah County prosecutor Stacy Heyworth told KGW. 

Lisa Ludwig, a criminal defense lawyer, said Christian's lawyers will have to carefully put together how his mental illness caused his behavior or caused his reaction.

"I'm interested to see what their mental health professionals say now. The fact that someone's mentally ill and the fact that they're charged with a crime are separate topics until someone can kind of knit them together in a cause and effect narrative," Ludwig said.

According to their opening statements, Christian's lawyers are likely to also use Oregon's self-defense law to explain why Christian lashed out.

Their argument appears to center around Fletcher's reaction to Christian's rant, and what they imply was Christian's "reasonable" response to a physical assault.

According to Oregon law, you are justified to use physical force against another person if you think that individual is "committing or attempting to commit a felony" using physical force against you.

A possible wrinkle in this defense popped up during Portland Police Detective Michele Michaels testimony. She said Christian grabbed a knife from his pocket, shoved Micah Fletcher and Taliesin Namkai-Meche, and told them to "do something." 

"No one has touched Christian at this point," Michaels testified.

Heyworth added Christian cannot claim self defense if he is designated as the "initial aggressor." 

"This doesn’t suggest that he was frightened at all. Instead, he appears to want an altercation. The same cannot be said of the victims who are repeatedly telling him to get off he train," Heyworth explained.

Detective Michaels also testified Christian had showed a "slicing motion" across his throat before the fight. Heyworth said this action is "extremely threatening." 

In his opening statements, Christian's lawyer Dean Smith turned the tables, and claimed Fletcher was the aggressor by trying to throw Christian off the train because of his rant.

“No matter how much [Christian] aggravated people, he had the right to stay on that train, just like everyone else, even if their speech didn’t require free speech protection," Smith said.

Scholl and Smith have also questioned witnesses on the length of time Christian may have ranted toward two black teenage girls, which is where his intimidation charge stems from. 

"The defense is grasping at straws when they suggest 30 seconds is insufficient to constitute intimidation. A person can commit intimidation by ranting for far less time than in this case. Legally, there is no prescribed length of time to meet the requirements of the statute," Heyworth said. 

RELATED: 'I pushed him...he responded by stabbing me in the throat': Jeremy Christian trial, Day 6

RELATED: Free speech or a vicious crime?: Accused MAX attacker's lawyers argue legality of rant affects larger case

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