Attorney: Hanukkah Stabbing Suspect May Have ‘Heard Voices’ During Attack

WCBS 880 Newsroom
December 30, 2019 - 1:50 pm
Rockland County stab

Associated Press

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MONSEY, N.Y. (WCBS 880) — Federal hate crime charges have been brought against a man accused of invading a rabbi’s home and stabbing five people during a Hanukkah celebration after the FBI and NYPD found Chilling anti-Semitic journal in his home, authorities said.

Grafton Thomas, 37, was scheduled to appear in federal court on Monday to face five counts of obstructing the free exercise of religious beliefs by attempting to kill with a dangerous weapon and causing injuries.

RELATED: 'Terrorism': 5 Stabbed At Rockland Hanukkah Celebration

Prosecutors say a bloody machete was found in Thomas’ car and there were graphic references to Jewish people in his journal entries. Meanwhile, a search of his phone found a search history of Jewish temples in Rockland County and Elizabeth, New Jersey along with the question, “Why did Hitler hate the Jews?”

The attack on the seventh night of Hanukkah occurred amidst a series of violent attacks on Jewish people in New York. Gov. Andrew Cuomo said it was the 13th attack targeting Orthodox Jewish residents in just eight days.

Five people were injured in the attack, including the son of Rabbi Chaim Rottenberg, Shloime Rottenberg. Other victims were later identified as Herman Frank, Joseph Weiss, Josef Neumann and Nachman Indusky.

According to the Post, Neumann's family has indicated that is “not doing well” after undergoing brain surgery following the attack.

Police were able to track Thomas to Manhattan and made an arrest within two hours of the attack. Authorities say he had blood all over his clothing and smelled of bleach, but said “almost nothing” when officers stopped him.

President Donald Trump took to Twitter a day after the attack to condemn the “horrific" act of anti-Semitism. He added that “We must all come together to fight, confront, and eradicate the evil scourge of anti-Semitism."

Thomas was arraigned on Sunday evening and pleaded not guilty to five counts of attempted murder and one count of burglary. He remains jailed after a judge set his bail at $5 million.

On Sunday, Thomas’ family released a statement through their attorney saying the 37-year-old was raised to embrace tolerance but has a history of mental illness.

“Grafton Thomas has a long history of mental illness and hospitalizations. He has no history of like violent acts and no convictions for any crime,” the statement issued by attorney Michael Sussman read. “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.”

The statement continued saying, “We believe the actions of which he is accused, if committed by him, tragically reflect profound mental illness.”

“Finally, we express our deepest concern and prayers for those injured physically and otherwise deeply affected by the events of Saturday night," the family said. "We thank those who rendered medical attention to each of those injured.”

In a press conference Monday, Sussman also noted his client may have been hearing voices at the time of the attack and was not coherent.

“He was able to explain his behavior with reference to various auditory hallucinations, and one might say demons,” Sussman said.

The attorney is asking to have a mental evaluation of Thomas done as soon as possible.

“From what I understand to this date, this is the action of an individual who, for a long time, has decompensated,” the attorney said. “He's been treated in mental health facilities.”

After sifting through dozens of pages of what he says were rambling writings, Sussman says he didn't see anything related to anti-Semitism, but federal prosecutors maintain they did.

The attack was the latest in a string of violence targeting Jews in the region, including a Dec. 10 massacre at a a kosher grocery store in Jersey City.

In light of the attacks, Rockland County has announced it will partner with a private security firm to guard synagogues in the area.