Judge says Monsey Hanukkah attack suspect may need death penalty lawyer
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Judge says Monsey Hanukkah attack suspect may need death penalty lawyer

Grafton Thomas pleads not guilty to hate crime charges in machete assault on party goers at rabbi’s home, but court warns of consequences if one of five injured dies

Ramapo police officers escort Grafton Thomas from Ramapo Town Hall to a police vehicle, December 29, 2019, in Ramapo, New York. (AP Photo/Julius Constantine Motal)
Ramapo police officers escort Grafton Thomas from Ramapo Town Hall to a police vehicle, December 29, 2019, in Ramapo, New York. (AP Photo/Julius Constantine Motal)

WHITE PLAINS, New York — A man charged in a bloody attack at a Hanukkah celebration may need attorneys specializing in death penalty cases if a stabbing victim dies, a judge said Monday.

US District Judge Cathy Seibel raised the subject during a court hearing for Grafton Thomas after he pleaded not guilty to federal hate crime charges.

Thomas was arrested hours after five people were stabbed in a December 28 attack at a rabbi’s home in Monsey, an Orthodox Jewish community north of New York City.

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. One victim remains in a coma.

An Orthodox Jewish man stands in front of a residence in Monsey, N.Y., Sunday, Dec. 29, 2019, following a stabbing spree late Saturday during a Hanukkah celebration. (AP/Allyse Pulliam)

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.

Michael Sussman, an attorney who represents Thomas, said he’ll consider asking the judge by January 27 to conclude his client is psychologically unfit for trial. He said a defense expert will visit Thomas a third and final time Friday and then prepare a report.

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.

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo talks to reporters outside the home of Rabbi Chaim Rottenberg in Monsey, New York on December 29, 2019  (Kena Betancur/AFP via Getty Images)

Meanwhile, Gov. Andrew Cuomo said Monday he directed up to $340,000 to install license plate readers on roads in and around Monsey. Police arrested Thomas within two hours of the attack, and authorities have credited a license plate reader with helping catch him.

Cuomo, who also announced $340,000 to put in license plate readers for the village of New Square, praised the technology and said painful lessons have been learned from the Monsey attack.

“We will do everything in our power, on every level, to make sure this horrific act doesn’t happen again,” Cuomo, accompanied by community leaders, said at a news conference in Rockland County.

Cuomo plans to update the New York State Police’s network of license plate readers.

The upgrades, he said, will reduce the time it takes authorities to locate missing people, crime suspects and people who have a warrant seeking their arrest.

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