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Hanukkah stabbing suspect pleads not guilty to attempted murder charges

The man accused of stabbing at least five people in a machete rampage at the home of a Hasidic rabbi during a Hanukkah celebration pleaded not guilty to attempted murder charges on Thursday (January 16).

Grafton Thomas, 37, was arraigned on the charges at Rockland County court in New City, New York, for the December 28 attack that left a 72-year-old man comatose from suffering devastating machete blows to his head, arm and neck. His family has said he may not recover.

Thomas was also charged earlier in the week by federal prosecutors with hate crimes and could face the death penalty if the victim dies.

Thomas’ attorney Michael Sussman, said a psychiatric evaluation was being conducted in the federal case and that he expected to submit a report on his client’s competence to stand trial by the end of the month. 

Outside of court, Sussman raised the issue of Thomas’ competency.

“We have a very developed law over hundreds of years, which relates to mental competency – mental competency, both to stand trial and for an event which occurred – and we’re dealing with those serious issues in this case,” Sussman told reporters.

Federal prosecutors have said Thomas targeted his victims because of their Jewish faith. In a criminal complaint filed last month, they cited journals they 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.

Sussman told reporters he was not familiar with those materials. 

The attack capped a string of incidents in which Jews have been physically attacked or accosted in the New York metropolitan area in recent weeks, including a shooting at a kosher supermarket in New Jersey that left two members of the Hasidic community dead. 

One of the suspects in that attack – who died in the shooting – had also expressed interest in the Black Hebrew Israelites. 

The most recent national numbers from the Anti-Defamation League’s Center on Extremism found 780 anti-Semitic incidents reported to or detected by the organization in the United States in the first half of 2019, compared with 785 incidents reported for the same period in 2018. 

(Production: Dan Fastenberg, Catherine Koppel)

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