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Wednesday, March 15, 2017

The Alton Alexander Nolen Beheading Murder Case

     The 911 call came in at four-thirty in the afternoon on Thursday September 25, 2014 from an employee of the Vaughn Foods distribution warehouse in Moore, Oklahoma ten miles south of Oklahoma City. The emergency caller, not speaking to the dispatcher, said, "Shut the doors!" Then to the dispatcher said, "We have someone attacking someone in the building. Can you hear this in the background? That's a gunshot."

     When they entered the Vaughn Foods building, officers with the Moore Police Department encountered a bloody scene of horrific violence. Coleen Hufford, a 54-year-old employee, had been repeatedly stabbed then beheaded. Traci Johnson, a fellow employee, had been stabbed as well but was still alive. Alton Alexander Nolen, the 30-year-old man wielding the knife, had been shot once. He was alive but unconscious.

     Earlier that afternoon, after being fired from the food processing and distribution plant, Alton Nolen left the building in a huff, climbed into his car, and drove erratically around the company parking lot. With a knife in hand, he re-entered the facility through the main entrance. Nolen walked through the front office into the shipping area then into the customer service office. There he encountered Colleen Hufford and Traci Johnson, employees who he had no reason to hate or punish.

     Mark Vaughn, the corporation's chief operating officer, rushed to the scene armed with a rifle. He arrived too late to save Colleen Hufford and almost didn't get there in time for Traci Johnson. Before Nolen had the chance to behead his second victim, Mr. Vaughn shot and wounded him.

     Alton Nolen was not a stranger to the local law enforcement community. In the evening of October 1, 2010, while accompanied by his 29-year-old girlfriend and her 2-year-old son, he was driving his white Chevrolet Impala on Oklahoma Highway 33. State Trooper Betsy Randolph pulled him over after she noticed that Nolen's paper license plate looked like a fake. The officer received confirmation of this after she radioed-in the plate number.

     Nolen, when asked by Trooper Randolph to produce his driver's license, said he didn't have it with him. "Do you have a valid driver's license," she asked.

     "No," he replied.

     Seated next to the trooper in the patrol car parked along the curb on a residential street, Nolen said that he didn't want to go back to jail, and denied having outstanding warrants for his arrest. When the officer entered his name and date of birth into her computer, she knew he had lied. There were several outstanding warrants for Nolen's arrest including one for failing to appear in court on a cocaine charge. The trooper had no choice but to take Nolen into custody.

     Trooper Randolph, after cuffing Nolen's right hand, ran into resistance as he tried to call his girlfriend on his cellphone. As the officer reached for her expandable baton, Nolen pushed her away and jumped out of the police vehicle. The trooper chased Nolen on foot but lost him amid a group of houses in the neighborhood.

     Following a 12-hour manhunt that included a helicopter, police dogs, and officers from four law enforcement agencies, the police took Alton Nolen into custody. A local prosecutor charged him with assault and battery on a police officer and escape from detention.

     Early in 2011, following a plea deal, the judge sentenced Nolen to six years on the cocaine offense, two years for escaping police custody, and two years for assaulting Trooper Randolph. Although he faced up to ten years behind bars, he only served 18 months in prison and six months in a halfway  house.

     While in prison Nolen converted to Islam. In April 2013, a month after leaving the halfway house, he began posting messages on Facebook under the name Jah Keem Yisrael. His postings were clearly anti-American. He ran  photographs of Osama bin Laden and the burning trade towers. He also had several Muslim Facebook friends from the U.S., England, and the Middle East.

     Prior to losing his job at the Moore, Oklahoma food processing plant Nolen tried to covert fellow employees to Islam.

     On Saturday September 27, 2014, detectives questioned Nolen after he had regained consciousness. He was charged with first-degree murder and aggravated assault. Until investigators determined the principal motive for the beheading--anger at being fired or striking a terroristic blow against America--the attacks on these innocent women would be handled as a criminal matter. For many, the fact that Nolen was a militant Muslim who beheaded a woman was enough to justify treating the murder as an act of terrorism.

     In May 2016, Nolen offered to plead guilty to first-degree murder. He said he wanted to be executed by lethal injection. Judge Lori Walkey rejected the defendant's guilty plea and ordered a hearing to determine Nolen's mental competency.

     In August 2016, a prosecution psychologist testified that Alton Nolen had a personality disorder and was therefore not psychotic. A neuropsychologist for the defense testified that Nolen was a schizophrenic with a "thought disorder."

     At the conclusion of the mental competency hearing, Judge Walkey rejected Nolen's guilty plea. This meant that instead of death row, Nolen would be incarcerated in a mental institution.

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