Death sen­tence given for Moore be­head­ing

The Oklahoman - - FRONT PAGE - BY NOLAN CLAY Staff Writer nclay@ok­la­homan.com

NOR­MAN — A jury Thurs­day agreed on a death sen­tence for mur­derer Al­ton Alexan­der Nolen in the be­head­ing case — a ver­dict that brought some clo­sure to the fam­ily of the vic­tim.

“It feels like all of the emo­tions that you hold in for three years are fi­nally able to break free,” said Kelli Ber­anek, daugh­ter of mur­der vic­tim Colleen Huf­ford.

“Now ... we can all move on,” she said. “We can all start re­mem­ber­ing her as a per­son in­stead of her in this sit­u­a­tion.”

Nolen, 33, of Moore, had no re­ac­tion as the judge read the ver­dict, even though he has said re­peat­edly since his ar­rest that was the pun­ish­ment he wanted be­cause of his re­li­gious be­liefs.

He kept his head down,

never look­ing up. He also kept his eyes and ears cov­ered with his or­ange jail shirt by pulling it up with his hands from the in­side.

For­mal sen­tenc­ing is set for Dec. 15. An ap­peal is au­to­matic.

Nolen ad­mit­ted to po­lice and the FBI that he be­headed one co­worker with a kitchen knife and tried to be­head an­other co-worker af­ter be­ing sus­pended from a food plant in Moore on Sept. 25, 2014. The Mus­lim con­vert said in his con­fes­sion that he felt op­pressed and took ac­tion in ser­vice to the will of Al­lah.

He first at­tacked Huf­ford, 54, grab­bing her from be­hind as she talked to a su­per­vi­sor at Vaughan Foods.

“Die, b——, die,” he said as he sawed at her neck, ac­cord­ing to tes­ti­mony. He fought off three men who tried to stop him.

He then at­tacked Traci John­son, a new worker at the plant, who had made the com­plaint about his racial re­marks that led to his sus­pen­sion. She sur­vived when the plant’s then-chief op­er­at­ing of­fi­cer in­ter­rupted the at­tack and shot Nolen.

“Thank heav­ens it’s over,” John­son, 46, of Ok­la­homa City, said af­ter the ver­dict Thurs­day. “I don’t have to worry about him any­more. I can rest in peace. Colleen can rest in peace.”

Ju­rors reached their ver­dict on pun­ish­ment for the mur­der in less than three hours. Their choices were life

in prison, life in prison with­out the pos­si­bil­ity of pa­role and death.

“It was hard,” jury fore­man Brian Mon­roe said of the unan­i­mous de­ci­sion for a death sen­tence. “It just, it goes against some peo­ple’s morals. And, you know, you got to, got to weigh ev­ery­thing out, talk it out, talk it over. As hor­ri­ble as it was, yep.

“We had to work at it,” the fore­man told The

Ok­la­homan. “That’s all I’ll say. We had to work at it.”

Cleve­land County District At­tor­ney Greg Mash­burn thanked ju­rors who were in trial for five weeks.

Ju­rors learned dur­ing the trial that Nolen said to psy­chol­o­gists and in court that he wanted to be ex­e­cuted be­cause of his re­li­gious be­liefs. Ju­rors also learned he told the FBI he had no re­grets and knew he was go­ing to heaven.

In an im­pas­sioned clos­ing ar­gu­ment Thurs­day morn­ing, Mash­burn told ju­rors, “He wants the death penalty. Give him what he wants.”

The district at­tor­ney then went fur­ther, say­ing that Nolen wanted the death penalty “be­cause he thinks some­thing good is wait­ing for him on the other side. Give it to him, and let him find out.”

The pros­e­cu­tor showed jury pho­tos of Huf­ford as she looked in life and then pho­tos of her body and head.

Pros­e­cu­tors con­tended Nolen would be vi­o­lent again, “in a heart­beat,” and re­minded ju­rors that he had caused dis­tur­bances last year in jail and in April in­side the court­room.

Ju­rors on Wed­nes­day saw two videos of the al­ter­ca­tions at the jail.

De­fense at­tor­neys asked ju­rors to show mercy. They ar­gued Nolen has a men­tal ill­ness, lower in­tel­lec­tual func­tion­ing and a re­li­gious pre­oc­cu­pa­tion that skewed his think­ing.

“You don’t need a doc­tor to tell you some­thing’s wrong with him,” de­fense at­tor­ney Shea Smith said, point­ing at Nolen. “He’s clearly got some­thing men­tally wrong.”

De­fense at­tor­neys also sug­gested other rea­sons to ju­rors to spare Nolen’s life, in­clud­ing that he was kind to an­i­mals as a boy.

Nolen never looked up dur­ing the ar­gu­ments. He sat as he has for weeks, putting his hands in­side his jail top and press­ing the cloth against his ears.

Ju­rors on Sept. 29 found Nolen guilty of first-de­gree mur­der and five as­sault of­fenses. In reach­ing their guilty ver­dict, ju­rors re­jected an in­san­ity de­fense.

Ju­rors on Tues­day re­jected an­other de­fense claim — that Nolen was in­el­i­gi­ble for the death penalty be­cause of men­tal re­tar­da­tion.

With that ver­dict, ju­rors unan­i­mously found Nolen is not men­tally re­tarded. The term is still found in Ok­la­homa law even though it is con­sid­ered of­fen­sive in so­ci­ety.

Ju­rors al­ready had de­cided his pun­ish­ment for the as­saults. They chose life terms in prison on three of the as­sault con­vic­tions. They agreed he should serve 55 years in prison and 75 years in prison on the oth­ers.

Nolen ac­tu­ally pleaded guilty last year to first­de­gree mur­der and two of the as­sault of­fenses. District Judge Lori Walk­ley had been pre­pared to de­cide his pun­ish­ment her­self on those crimes, af­ter she re­solved ques­tions about his men­tal ca­pac­ity.

Once she did re­solve those is­sues, in April, Nolen would not say if he still stood by his 2016 guilty plea.

The judge then called off a sen­tenc­ing and or­dered the jury trial in­stead.

[COURT­ROOM DRAW­ING BY TODD PENDLE­TON, THE OK­LA­HOMAN GRAPH­ICS]

Mur­derer Al­ton Alexan­der Nolen sits with his hands in­side his jail shirt, with ears cov­ered on Oct. 2 dur­ing his trial in Cleve­land County District Court. He even­tu­ally pulled his jail top more over his face, un­til only his fore­head showed on the fi­nal day.

[COURT­ROOM DRAW­ING BY TODD PENDLE­TON, THE OK­LA­HOMAN GRAPH­ICS]

Mur­derer Al­ton Alexan­der Nolen did not par­tic­i­pate in his own five-week trial, sit­ting away from his at­tor­neys and cover­ing his ears with his fin­gers and later with his or­ange jail top.

District At­tor­ney Greg Mash­burn

Mur­der vic­tim Colleen Huf­ford

Al­ton Alexan­der Nolen

Sur­vivor Traci John­son

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