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Man charged in deadly 2019 New York Hanukkah attack again deemed unfit for trial

Judge says Grafton Thomas, who allegedly attacked worshipers at a rabbi’s home in town of Monsey, is incompetent due to mental illness

Luke Tress is an editor and a reporter in New York for The Times of Israel.

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)

NEW YORK — A New York judge ruled on Wednesday that a man charged with stabbing five people at a 2019 Hanukkah party, killing one, was mentally unfit to stand trial.

Rockland County Judge Kevin Russo found Grafton Thomas incompetent due to mental illness and committed him to psychiatric care for a year.

Thomas’s remand could be extended past a year if he is again found mentally incompetent, according to the local Lohud news site.

A psychiatric evaluation a year ago also found Thomas unfit for trial, despite months of hospitalization at a federal facility in Missouri, where he was diagnosed with schizophrenia.

Thomas, 39, is charged with attacking worshipers with a machete at a rabbi’s home in December 2019 in the town of Monsey, a largely ultra-Orthodox community north of New York City.

Josef Neumann, 72, died of his injuries following the attack.

Federal prosecutors have said Thomas kept handwritten journals with antisemitic comments and a drawing of a swastika, and researched Adolf Hitler before the attack.

Thomas’s lawyers have said he has struggled with mental illness for years, and was not motivated by hatred for Jews.

After the attack, area residents said Thomas had attempted to break into a synagogue, but finding it locked, targeted the rabbi’s home next door. They said Thomas smashed his way into the home during Hanukkah festivities and slashed at celebrants, critically wounding Neumann. Over 100 people were inside the house at the time of the attack.

One of the worshipers, Josef Gluck, fought off Grafton with a chair and caught his license plate as he fled the scene, leading to his arrest.

The attack came amid a spate of violence against Jews in the New York area. Weeks before the Monsey attack, two antisemitic assailants shot up a kosher supermarket in New Jersey, killing three people inside. Earlier in 2019, a gunman killed one worshiper at a synagogue in Poway, California.

New York State leaders commemorated the anniversary of the Monsey attack earlier this month.

New York State Governor Kathy Hochul, senators Kirsten Gillibrand and Chuck Schumer and New York Attorney General Letitia James spoke at the online event memorializing that attack and victim Neumann.

Antisemitism in the US has come to the fore again in recent weeks after a gunman took a Texas synagogue hostage earlier this month. Like Grafton, that attacker also had a history of antisemitism, and his family said he suffered from mental illness.

Jews are targeted in hate crimes in the US more than any other religious group, in absolute and per capita numbers, year after year.

The NYPD says Jews are the most targeted group for hate crimes in the city, by far.

In the most recent incident, an attacker punched a Jewish man on a street in Brooklyn on Saturday. Police are investigating the incident as a hate crime.

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