Jury to Determine Competency of Moore Beheading Suspect

On September 24, 2014, recently fired Vaughan Foods employee Alton Alexander Nolen left the facility, grabbed a large knife from his vehicle, and returned to the building, savagely attacking two former co-workers. Before Vaughan Foods Chief Operating Officer Mark Vaughan, a reserve Oklahoma County Sheriff's deputy, shot Nolen and ended the attack, the man had beheaded one woman, Colleen Hufford, and attempted to behead another, Traci Johnson. Johnson was critically injured in the attack, but she survived.

In May of this year, Nolen pleaded guilty to one count of first degree murder in Hufford's death, one count of assault with a deadly weapon in the attack on Johnson, and one count of assault with a dangerous weapon in confronting Mark Vaughan with a knife.

However, citing serious concerns about Nolen's mental health and his ability to understand his guilty plea, Cleveland County District Judge Lori Walkley refused to accept the plea. 

Nolen was initially ruled competent in October 2015, but since then, defense attorneys say, his condition has deteriorated. A defense expert testified in May that Nolen is schizophrenic, saying, “He has lost touch with reality. It has gone to that extreme. He can't think rationally because he firmly believes he is being held captive, and we are all evil and the devil.”

In April, a jury will examine the evidence presented by prosecution and the defense to determine whether or not Alton Nolen is mentally competent. If the jury determines that the defendant is incompetent, he will be returned to the Oklahoma Forensic Center, the state mental health facility in Vinita, where he is currently undergoing evaluation.

However, if the jury determines that Nolen is mentally competent, then Judge Walkley will accept the defendant's guilty plea and determine a sentence. Nolen has asked for the death penalty, calling it the only acceptable punishment under his religious beliefs. 

Image credit: Cleveland County Sheriff's Office