A U.S. federal judge found Grafton Thomas, the man accused of stabbing five Orthodox Jews at a Hanukkah party in Monsey, New York, in late December, mentally unfit to stand trial in a decision published on Monday.
Judge Cathy Siebel said Thomas “is suffering from a mental disease or defect rendering him mentally incompetent to the extent he is unable to assist properly in his defense.”
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She ordered that Thomas, who had pleaded not guilty to the federal charges against him, be hospitalized in a treatment facility for a period of no more than four months to determine if “in the foreseeable future the defendant will attain the capacity to permit criminal proceedings to go forward against him.”
The judge added that should the mental facility find at any time that the defendant can stand trial, it must notify the court. The ruling only applies to Thomas’s trial for federal hate crimes. He still faces state charges.
On December 28, 2019, Thomas entered a Hanukkah party at a Rabbi’s house in Monsey and began stabbing the attendees, who were Orthodox Jews, with what was described as a large knife or machete.
In March, months after the attack, one of the Monsey victims, Josef Neumann, 70, died of his injuries.
“One of the worst consequences of bigoted rhetoric is indeed that people with alleged or actual mental challenges act out in deadly ways,” the Orthodox Jewish Public Affairs Council tweeted in reaction to the judge’s decision. “The ruling is a stark reminder that everyone – from government officials to online trolls – needs to be careful how they converse about people.”
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A federal grand jury indicted Grafton Thomas in January, bringing the number of federal charges he faces to 10. Each count carries a maximum term of life in prison.
During the indictment, he spoke only briefly to answer the judge’s questions, confirming his name and age and saying that he had taken the drug Prozac.
Federal prosecutors have said Thomas targeted his victims because of their Jewish faith. In their criminal complaint, they cited journals seized from the suspect’s home containing references to Adolf Hitler, Nazi culture and the Black Hebrew Israelites movement, identified by extremism experts as an anti-Jewish hate group.
His attorney, pointing to his client’s long history of mental illness, claimed the stabbing was likely an expression of psychosis rather than bigotry.
The attack deeply shook the Jewish community in the U.S. and triggered mass efforts to combat anti-Semitism, from rallies to heightened law enforcement presence in Jewish areas and the installation of more street cameras.
Earlier this month, the New York State legislature also voted to pass a bill equating hate crimes with domestic terrorism, which was named after late Monsey victim Josef Neumann.
Reuters contributed to this report.