National News

Testimony at Moore beheading trial to begin

Posted October 11

— By Nolan Clay Staff Writer nclay@oklahoman.com NORMAN - A jury was told Thursday that murder defendant Alton Alexander Nolen beheaded a co-worker in 2014 at a Moore food plant because of delusional religious beliefs. "He believed it 100 percent that what he was doing was right," attorney Shea Smith said in the defense's opening statement to jurors. Nolen's three court-appointed defense attorneys are asking jurors to find him not guilty by reason of insanity. They contend he is mentally ill. He is not cooperating in that defense. Instead, he sat behind his attorneys, his eyes closed, his head bowed and his hands covering his ears. The jury will hear the first witness after the trial resumes Friday morning. Smith said Nolen thinks he is Muslim and believes that the Quran says to cut off the head of an oppressor. "No sect ... of the Muslim faith believes what Mr. Nolen thinks the Quran says," she told jurors. Cleveland County District Attorney Greg Mashburn, though, told the jury the evidence will show Nolen made choices in carrying out the attack that prove he knew what he was doing was wrong. "This defendant was purposeful and deliberate," the prosecutor said in his opening statement. "He was clear in his thoughts and intent." The prosecutor pointed out that Nolen waited to begin his attack until after a security guard left for the day. He also pointed out Nolen hid the murder weapon, a knife, in a sock to sneak back into the food plant after being suspended. Nolen, 33, is charged with first-degree murder and five assault counts. If convicted of first-degree murder, he could be sentenced to life in prison, life without the possibility of parole or death. If found not guilty by reason of insanity, Nolen would be sent to the state's mental facility in Vinita, possibly for the rest of his life. Three years since attack He is accused in the murder count of beheading co-worker Colleen Hufford inside Vaughan Foods on Sept. 25, 2014, shortly after he was suspended for making racial remarks. She was 54. The district attorney called the victim "one of the most kind and caring ladies that you'll ever meet." He called Nolen's attack on her ferocious and brutal. The district attorney also revealed to jurors that the evidence will show Nolen attacked her by mistake. The district attorney said Nolen mistook Hufford for another woman who had bumped into him days before by accident. Using gestures, Mashburn demonstrated to jurors how Nolen attacked Hufford from behind and drew the knife across her neck. "She gasps and starts fighting for her life," the district attorney said. Nolen is accused in three of the assault counts of fighting off co-workers who tried to stop him. The district attorney told jurors Nolen went back each time to sawing the victim's neck. "He will not be deterred. He is there to behead his oppressors," Mashburn said. Nolen is accused in the other assault counts of trying to behead another co-worker, Traci Johnson, and of charging with a knife at the company's chief operating officer. Acting like he was pointing a rifle, the district attorney told jurors the company executive, Mark Vaughan, a reserve Oklahoma County sheriff's deputy, fired three times. One shot grazed Nolen, one shot missed and one shot hit, stopping him, the district attorney said. Mashburn said Johnson had been working at the plant only a few days. Jurors to see photos After the opening statements, District Judge Lori Walkley went over with prosecutors and defense attorneys what photos jurors will be allowed to see. The judge ruled jurors will be able to see one photo of the victim's severed head at the plant. Defense attorneys had complained that photo was too prejudicial and unnecessary. The trial is expected to last three to four more weeks. The judge started the trial early, beginning jury selection Sept. 8. Jury selection was completed Thursday. Eight men and four women were chosen to serve. There are three alternates. Jurors were told by the defense that Nolen wanted to plead guilty and get the death penalty. Nolen actually did plead guilty last year to first-degree murder and two of the assault counts. The judge put off accepting the plea until she resolved questions at a hearing in April about his mental state. After ruling on the mental issues, the judge was prepared to decide his punishment herself. However, by law, Nolen had to acknowledge in court he stood by his guilty plea. He refused to even talk to or look at the judge so she ordered a jury trial instead. She gave him another chance last week to stand by his guilty plea but he again refused to talk to her.

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