Oklahoma judge rules beheading suspect competent for trial

FILE - This Oct. 1, 2014, file photo provided by the Cleveland County, Okla., Sheriff's Department shows Alton Nolen, who has been charged in the Sept. 25, 2014, beheading death of his co-worker, Colleen Hufford, at a food processing plant in Moore, Okla. An Oklahoma judge will convene a non-jury trial scheduled to begin Monday, Oct. 26, 2015, to determine whether Nolen is mentally competent to be tried for first-degree murder. (Cleveland County Sheriff's Department via AP, File)

NORMAN, Okla. (AP) — An Oklahoma judge decided Wednesday that a man accused of beheading a co-worker at a food-processing plant is competent to be tried for first-degree murder and other charges.

Cleveland County District Judge Lori Walkley handed down the ruling in the case of Alton Nolen, 31, who is charged in the September 2014 attack that left Colleen Hufford, 54, dead and a second co-worker injured at the Vaughan Foods plant in south Oklahoma City.

In a written order, the judge noted that Nolen graduated from high school, played interscholastic sports, attended college, could socialize with others, worked, undertook religious studies and lived independently.

“The fact that he does not agree with the strategy of his attorneys does not mean he is incompetent,” Walkley wrote.

Walkley rejected defense claims that Nolen, who had converted to Islam shortly before the attack, was intellectually impaired. She ordered that proceedings resume in the criminal case against Nolen and that a preliminary hearing be scheduled.

Defense attorney Mitch Solomon declined to comment on the ruling. District attorney Greg Mashburn did not immediately return a telephone call seeking comment.

Investigators said Nolen had just been suspended from his job when he walked into the company’s administrative office and attacked Hufford with a large knife, severing her head.

He then repeatedly stabbed co-worker Traci Johnson, authorities say, before he was shot by Mark Vaughan, a reserve sheriff’s deputy and the company’s chief operating officer. Johnson survived the attack.

Nolen’s attorneys had claimed he was unable to help them prepare his defense and thus should not stand trial. They asked Walkley to send Nolen to the Oklahoma Forensic Center for more testing.

Prosecutors argued that Nolen could communicate with his attorneys if he wanted to.

Walkley’s decision came following two days of testimony during which psychologists for each side offered opposing opinions about whether Nolen is competent.

Dr. Anita Russell, a defense witness, testified that Nolen is intellectually impaired, cannot communicate with his attorneys and apparently wants to get the death penalty.

“He won’t consider any kind of defenses,” Russell testified on Monday. “He’s saying I’ll take the death penalty — that’s it. He’s unable or unwilling to consult with counsel.”

Russell also said Nolen is intellectually impaired with an IQ of 69, and his ability to express himself is equivalent to a child younger than 7. The average person’s IQ is 100.

But Dr. Shawn Roberson said Nolen is not mentally impaired and can communicate with his attorneys.

“He made it clear that he was not happy about having his competency questioned,” Roberson testified on Tuesday. “He’s not an intellectually impaired person in my opinion.”

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