NEW CITY, New York — The man charged in an attack at a suburban New York Hanukkah celebration that left five people wounded, one critically, pleaded not guilty to attempted murder and other charges on Thursday.
Grafton Thomas appeared in Rockland County Court. On Monday, he also pleaded not guilty to federal hate crime charges. Thomas was arrested hours after the mass stabbing at a rabbi’s home in Monsey, an ultra-Orthodox Jewish community north of New York City.
His lawyer, Michael Sussman, has said Thomas suffers from mental illness and is not responsible for his actions.
Prosecutor Dominic Crispino said in court on Thursday that Sussman should resign from the case because he videotaped evidence being taken out of Thomas’s cabin and therefore became a witness, the Journal News reported.
Sussman said he would not be resigning. Judge Kevin Russo said he would rule on the matter when the prosecutor puts his request in writing.
Sussman also said he wants to visit Rabbi Chaim Rottenberg’s property in Monsey, where the attack occurred on December 28, so he can get a sense of what Thomas was experiencing at the scene. Crispino argued against that; the judge said he would consider the request.
Sussman said he has no explanation as to why Thomas went to Rottenberg’s home and no indication that Thomas knew anyone in the congregation.
One of the victims, 72-year-old Josef Neumann, remains in a coma with a fractured skull and other injuries.
On Monday US District Judge Cathy Seibel said Thomas may need attorneys specializing in death penalty cases if Neumann dies.
Assistant US Attorney Michael Krouse said that if any of the victims dies, prosecutors will consult with Justice Department officials in Washington before deciding whether to seek the death penalty.
Seibel said she would appoint lawyers specializing in death penalty cases to help with the defense “as soon as possible,” if it becomes likely that charges could be upgraded to include a death penalty request.
Krouse said prosecutors would like to have Thomas evaluated by a psychology professional of their own choosing if Sussman wants to prove Thomas is unable to understand the charges against him.
Authorities say Thomas had kept handwritten journals with anti-Semitic references and had used his phone to look up information on Hitler.
Krouse said journals and writings were seized from two residences. He said two machetes and two knives were found in separate vehicles in the probe.