Hate crime charges filed in Hanukkah stabbing

Monday, December 30, 2019

MONSEY, N.Y. (AP) — Handwritten journals containing anti-Semitic references were found in the home of the man charged with federal hate crimes Monday in the stabbing and slashing of five people celebrating Hanukkah at a rabbi's house north of New York City, authorities said.

Grafton E. Thomas, 37, was held without bail after appearing in federal court in White Plains on five counts of obstructing the free exercise of religious beliefs by attempting to kill with a dangerous weapon and causing injuries in the Saturday attack. Authorities said a bloodstained 18-inch (45-centimeter) machete was recovered from his car.

The bearded Thomas, his ankles shackled, shuffled into the courtroom in a prison jumpsuit, telling a judge who asked him if his head was clear that he was “not clear at all” and needed sleep. But he added: “I am coherent.”

His court-appointed attorney, Susanne Brody, said Thomas has issues with bipolar disorder and schizophrenia.

The stabbings on the seventh night of Hanukkah come amid a series of violent attacks targeting Jews in the region that have led to increased security, particularly around religious gatherings.

A criminal complaint said journals recovered from Thomas' home in Greenwood Lake included comments questioning "why ppl mourned for anti-Semitism when there is Semitic genocide" and a page with drawings of a Star of David and a swastika.

A phone recovered from his car included repeated internet searches for "Why did Hitler hate the Jews" as well as "German Jewish Temples near me" and "Prominent companies founded by Jews in America," the complaint said.

On the day of the stabbings, the phone's browser was used to access an article titled: “New York City Increases Police Presence in Jewish Neighborhoods After Possible Anti-Semitic Attacks. Here's What To Know,” the complaint said.

Defense attorney Michael Sussman told reporters he visited Thomas' home and found stacks of notes he described as “the ramblings of a disturbed individual" but nothing to point to an “anti-Semitic motive” or suggest Thomas “intentionally targeted” the rabbi's home.

“My impression from speaking with him is that he needs serious psychiatric evaluation,” Sussman said. “His explanations were not terribly coherent.”

Thomas' family said he was raised to embrace tolerance but has a long history of mental illness, including multiple hospitalizations.

“He has no history of like violent acts and no convictions for any crime,” his family said in a statement. "He has no known history of anti-Semitism and was raised in a home which embraced and respected all religions and races. He is not a member of any hate groups.”

In a release, U.S. Attorney Geoffrey S. Berman said Thomas “targeted his victims in the midst of a religious ceremony, transforming a joyous Hanukkah celebration into a scene of carnage and pain.”

William F. Sweeney Jr., head of New York's FBI office, said the possible life prison sentence that the federal charges carry “for this type of attack are severe and justified.”

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