Chanukah Machete Attack Suspect Found Not Competent for Trial

By: Joel Grossbarth

A Federal Judge in White Plains has determined that the man charged with Federal hate crimes in connection with the Chanukah attack on a Monsey home is currently mentally incompetent to stand trial. United States Federal Judge Cathy Seibel issued an Order this week confirming a psychological report issued by a Court-appointed evaluator finding Grafton Thomas “is presently suffering from a mental disease or defect rendering him mentally incompetent to the extent he is unable to assist properly in his defense.”

Thomas is charged with multiple counts of Federal hate crimes in connection with the December 28, 2019 attack on the home of a Rabbi while parishioners were celebrating Chanukah. The attack left five people critically injured including Josef Neuman, who last month died of the injuries sustained in the attack.

Judge Seibel ordered the Attorney General and the Federal Bureau of Prisons to immediately take Thomas into custody and house him at a suitable medical facility for a period not to exceed four months. Thomas is to be evaluated and the Court is to be informed if at any time it is determined that he becomes competent to assist his defense. Under the Federal criminal laws, a person who isn’t competent to stand trial can’t be convicted of a crime. Courts require competency before a defendant stands trial in order to preserve due process—that is, to make sure the proceedings are fair.

A determination of competency to stand trial is legally unrelated to the defendant’s mental state at the time of the alleged crime. Competency is not a defense. During his arraignment on the Federal charges, Thomas pleaded not guilty to the charges, without asserting any insanity defenses. When he is found competent for trial and is able to properly assist in his defense, a trial on the charges will take place.

Thomas also faces a fifteen-count New York State indictment including attempted murder charges in Rockland County Criminal Court. Based upon the death of Josef Neuman last month it is highly likely that a superseding indictment will be issued by a grand jury once the current pandemic allows for them to meet and consider the proposed new charges presented by District Attorney Thomas Walsh.