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Jurors Continue To Hear Testimony On Sentencing 'Enhancement Factors' For Jeremy Christian

<p>Jeremy Christian enters the courtroom to hear the verdict in his murder trial Feb. 21, 2020. The jury found Christian guilty on all 12 charges he faced.</p>
<p>Jeremy Christian enters the courtroom to hear the verdict in his murder trial Feb. 21, 2020. The jury found Christian guilty on all 12 charges he faced.</p>

UPDATE (Feb. 26, 12:07 p.m. PT) — Jurors returned to court Wednesday morning for the continuation of a “sentencing enhancement” hearing. The jurors are being asked to decide on sentencing factors that could influence Multnomah County Circuit Court Judge Cheryl Albrecht’s sentencing of Jeremy Christian.

Albrecht has not yet scheduled a sentencing date for Christian, but he could potentially face life in prison without the possibility of parole after being convicted on 12 counts Friday

The majority of those convictions are related to a stabbing attack on a Portland MAX train in 2017 when Christian killed two people and attempted to kill a third.

The sentencing factors jurors are being asked to consider for each of the 12 convictions include whether Christian could be rehabilitated, if his crimes were precipitated by his “unreasonable racial and religious bias” and if he’s likely to commit any future violent acts.

Jurors began deliberating on the sentencing factors Wednesday afternoon.

The jury heard from prosecution witnesses Tuesday whose testimony touched on some of those sentencing factors, including a parole and probation officer who said he thought Christian had the potential to commit future violence.

Christian’s defense team called one witness Wednesday morning — Dr. Mark Cunningham, a forensic and clinical psychologist who interviewed Christian and his family and friends following the MAX stabbing attack.

Cunningham said he diagnosed Christian with socialization spectrum disorder — what he called “a broader nomenclature of autism spectrum disorder.”

Cunningham said he does not believe Christian holds white supremacist beliefs, but rather, is a provocateur — something that multiple defense witnesses stated during Christian’s trial.

“Jeremy Christian is not subtle about what he thinks. He compulsively has to tell you about what he thinks,” Cunningham said. “If Jeremy Christian is going to hold racist, white supremacist beliefs … you don’t have to search for some clue. He lays out whatever he thinks.”

Cunningham concluded that Christian’s actions were not precipitated by a racial or religious bias but by “situational and societal stresses, intoxication, social fluency impairments” and other factors. 

He also said Christian’s actions show his “psychological impairments, not a callous disregard for human life” — another sentencing factor the jury must address. 

The minimum prison time Christian will face is life with the possibility of parole after 30 years, Cunningham said. With the earliest parole date, if he receives that sentence, Christian could get out of prison at age 65.

Cunningham did an analysis on recidivism and said the older someone is when they’re released from prison, the lower the possibility is they’ll return to prison.

He also said “lifers,” people with indeterminate prison sentences, are also less likely to return to prison than people who have determinate sentences.

After Cunningham concluded, both the prosecution and defense gave their closing arguments to the jurors, again addressing the sentencing factors they’d be considering.

“He has built a 20-year track record that includes violence against innocent people,” prosecuting attorney Don Rees said of Christian. “The state asks you to answer ‘yes’ to all of these questions.”

One of Christian’s defense attorneys, Dean Smith, spoke mostly on the sentencing factor of whether Christian’s acts were precipitated by a racial or religious bias.

“What we’re asking you to do is look at the whole person. Look at everything,” Smith said. “There’s not a single person that knows Jeremy Christian that thinks he’s a racist, that hears him say racist things. … One of the things that you know, that you heard, is he’s a provocateur.” 

Smith continued: “If you have a balanced view of Jeremy Christian, then you will understand that he said the things he said for reasons other than that he’s a white supremacist, because he’s not.” 

Smith also read notes from sheriff’s deputies who have supervised Christian for the past three years. One deputy called Christian “one of the easiest inmates” he’d ever managed. Another deputy said Christian had gotten along with everyone regardless of race, religion or other characteristics. 

Judge Albrecht gave the jurors instructions on how to address the sentencing factors, and they began their deliberation late Wednesday afternoon.

Copyright 2020 Oregon Public Broadcasting