Judge: Hanukkah attack suspect may need death-penalty lawyer

15 Jan 2020 | 11:03

    Greenwood Lake. A man charged in a bloody attack at a Hanukkah celebration may need attorneys specializing in death penalty cases if a stabbing victim dies, a judge said Monday.

    U.S. District Judge Cathy Seibel raised the subject during a court hearing for Grafton Thomas of Greenwood Lake after he pleaded not guilty to federal hate crime charges.

    Thomas was arrested hours after five people were stabbed at an attack at a rabbi's home in Monsey, an Orthodox Jewish community north of New York City.

    Assistant U.S. Attorney Michael Krouse said that if any of the victims dies, prosecutors will consult with Justice Department officials in Washington before deciding whether to seek the death penalty.

    One victim remains in a coma.

    Seibel said she would appoint lawyers specializing in death penalty cases to help with the defense "as soon as possible,'' if it becomes likely that charges could be upgraded to include a death penalty request.

    Michael Sussman, an attorney who represents Thomas, said he'll consider asking the judge by Jan. 27 to conclude his client is psychologically unfit for trial. He said a defense expert will visit Thomas a third and final time Friday and then prepare a report.

    Krouse said prosecutors would like to have Thomas evaluated by a psychology professional of their own choosing if Sussman wants to prove Thomas is unable to understand the charges against him.