WHITE PLAINS, N.Y. (CBSNewYork) – The man accused of stabbing five people at a synagogue in Rockland County pleaded not guilty today to federal hate crime charges.
The 37-year-old Grafton Thomas is charged with five counts of attempting to kill the victims because of their religion and five counts of obstructing the free exercise of religion in an attempt to kill. Each count has a maximum sentence of life in prison.
The suspect told magistrate Paul Davidson “Good morning your honor, my name is Grafton E. Thomas.” He wore an orange jumpsuit and smiled at family members including his mother in the second row.
Thomas’ attorney claims he suffers from severe mental illness and was currently taking Prozac, but he was not antisemitic and his illness was to blame for the Dec. 28 attack.
WEB EXTRA: Read the criminal complaint (pdf)
Prosecutors say the 37-year-old stormed into a rabbi’s Monsey home with a machete while a half-dozen Orthodox Jews were inside celebrating Chanukah. He allegedly told dozens of congregants “no one is leaving.”
Thomas then drove to New York City, where he was stopped by two NYPD officers in Harlem. Investigators found a trove of evidence inside his car, including a machete.
Nuemann’s youngest daughter, Nicky Kohen, told CBS2’s Tony Aiello she visits her father in the hospital almost every day, hoping he can sense her presence.“I tell him about my kids and I tell him what day it is and what we’re doing. Just like carrying a conversation, it’s just one-sided right now,” she said. “We’re taking all our energy and placing it on the positive light of my father, hoping and praying for him to heal completely and miraculously.”
The hate crime case was assigned to U.S. District Court Judge Cathy Siebel. She scheduled a conference with the lawyers for Monday afternoon.
Thomas also faces attempted murder charges filed by Rockland County.
A GoFundMe page has been set up to help with his medical costs.