NORMAN, Okla. (AP) — A clinical psychologist testified Tuesday that an Oklahoma man charged with beheading a co-worker at a food-processing plant is mentally incompetent to face a murder trial because he wants the death penalty and won’t help attorneys prepare his defense.
Dr. Anita Russell of Tulsa testified that Alton Nolen, accused in the September 2014 attack that killed Colleen Hufford, 54, and injured a second co-worker, is intellectually impaired, cannot communicate with his attorneys and apparently wants to die.
“He won’t consider any kind of defenses,” Russell testified. “He’s saying I’ll take the death penalty — that’s it. He’s unable or unwilling to consult with counsel.”
Russell testified on the first day of a non-jury competency trial for Nolen that will determine whether he can to consult with his lawyer and understands the nature of the legal proceedings against him, elements required by federal law before a defendant can be tried for an offense.
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Russell, hired by Nolen’s defense attorneys, testified that Nolen has a clear understanding of what he is charged with and why he was arrested.
“He understands what could happen to him in regard to the death penalty,” she said. “He doesn’t trust his attorneys or attorneys generally. And he wouldn’t consider a legal defense. He doesn’t see his attorneys as having any role in this process.”
She said Nolen, who had converted to Islam shortly before the attack, cited biblical references during her interviews with him while discussing whether he should receive the death penalty.
“Mr. Nolen wasn’t sure whether he would go to heaven or hell,” the psychologist testified. He believes it would be up to God to decide, she said.
Russell also said Nolen is intellectually impaired with an IQ of 69, and his ability to express himself is equivalent to a child younger than 7. The average person’s IQ is 100.
However, during cross-examination by prosecutors, Russell conceded that Nolen received a couple of A-grades on some psychology courses he took during a short period in college.
Throughout the hearing, Nolen, dressed in an orange-prison-issued jumpsuit and shackled at the wrists and ankles, sat at the defense table with his head bowed and his eyes closed. He occasionally cupped his hands over his face and tugged at his beard.
Defense attorney Mitch Solomon declined to comment on Russell’s testimony.
A not guilty plea has been entered on Nolen’s behalf. Prosecutors have said they are seeking the death penalty. No trial date has been set.
Investigators said Nolen had just been suspended from Vaughan Foods in Moore when he walked into the company’s administrative office and attacked Hufford with a large knife, severing her head. He then repeatedly stabbed co-worker Traci Johnson before he was shot by Mark Vaughan, a reserve sheriff’s deputy and the company’s chief operating officer. Johnson survived the attack.
Authorities have said Nolen apparently uttered Arabic words during the attack. District Attorney Greg Mashburn has said Nolen had “some sort of infatuation with beheadings,” but that the attack appeared to have more to do with his suspension than his religious conversion.
Testimony in the trial resumes Tuesday.