The chief prosecutor said it is “highly likely” he will seek the death penalty for the Oklahoma man accused of beheading a woman co-worker and slashing another with a large knife in a gruesome attack at a food processing plant in Norman last week.
District Attorney Greg Mashburn said Wednesday he wants to confer with the murder victim’s family before making a final decision, but he intends to prosecute the case to the fullest so the accused is held accountable.
Mashburn also said the initial FBI investigation into the background of the assailant turned up no ties to extremist Muslin groups that advocate beheadings — such as those carried out recently in the Middle East — even though he was heard shouting Islamic phrases during the stabbing.
The motive, Mashburn said, appeared to be his confrontation with co-workers over his efforts to convert them to the Muslim faith and his firing based on their complaints.
“There was some sort of infatuation with beheadings,” Mashburn said. “It seemed to be related to his interest in killing someone that way.”
Alton Alexander Nolen, 30, has been charged with first-degree murder, attempted murder and assault with a deadly weapon in the knife-wielding attack on the two women co-workers at the Vaughan Foods plant in the Oklahoma City suburb of Moore. The company’s chief operating office, who is also a reserve deputy sheriff, stopped the savagery with two rifle shots to the assailant’s body.
Nolen was transferred from the Oklahoma City Hospital, where he was treated for his bullet wounds, to the Cleveland County Jail in Norman Wednesday morning. The district attorney said Nolen would be arraigned on the charges promptly.
Colleen Hufford, 54, who worked in the plant’s administration office, was stabbed to death and beheaded in the attack. She was described by friends as a shy person who always wore a smile and loved sports, especially hockey.
Traci Johnson, 43, was stabbed and slashed in the face and neck. She worked on the plant floor with Nolen, processing vegetables for shipment throughout the country.
Court documents indicated Nolen had been fired after an altercation at the plant with Johnson, who had complained to company officials Nolen had an attitude of “not liking white people.” Nolen is an African-American; Johnson is white.
The documents noted Nolen had driven home after his termination, secured a large-bladed knife and return to Vaughan Foods in search of Johnson. He entered the front office of the administration building, encountering Hufford in a doorway. The documents indicated he had grabbed her from behind, stabbed her several times, then decapitated her.
Johnson and other workers rushed to the scene within minutes, throwing chairs and other items at Nolen, according to the paperwork. He had threatened them with the knife, then struck out at Johnson, slashing her face and throat before being shot by chief operating officer Mark Vaughan. She was taken to a local hospital and later released.
Mashburn said the FBI is still investigating Nolen’s background for possible terrorist connections. He said investigators know he was a convert to Islam and called himself Jah’Keem Yisrael on social media sites. Postings on his Facebook page included a photo of a beheading and several extremist statements.
Prosecutors confirmed Nolen has a tattoo of Jesus on his chest and the Arabic phrase, “As-salaamu alaikum” (Peace be with you) on his stomach.
He was sentenced to six years in prison in 2011 for assaulting and fleeing from a state trooper during a traffic stop, for escape from a detention center, and for possession of drugs with intent to distribute. But he served only two years, completing his probation six months ago.
(Details for this story were provided by the Norman, Okla., Transcript.)