Grafton Thomas has been found mentally incompetent to stand trial on federal attempted murder and hate crime charges involving the machete attack on Hasidic Jews attending a December Hanukkah party at a rabbi's house in Monsey.
Josef Neumann, 72, died from head and body wounds in the Dec. 28 attack at the Forshay Road house. Five others were injured in the attack that led to federal and Rockland County criminal charges against the 39-year-old Orange County resident.
U.S. District Court Judge Cathy Seibel ordered that the 39-year-old Thomas be held in a hospital for treatment not to exceed four months. He is not cleared of the charges against him, and Seibel wrote in a decision dated Sunday that he will be held to determine whether there is a substantial probability that in the foreseeable future he will be able to understand the charges and assist in his own defense.
The order states the federal Bureau of Prisons must provide Seibel, the U.S. Attorney's Office and defense attorney Michael Sussman with an interim report on Thomas after 30 days on his medical and psychological condition, the diagnosis of the facility's examiner and a prognosis.
The U.S. Attorney's Office in White Plains didn't challenge the results of the psychiatric evaluation of Thomas and agreed to Seibel's order with defense attorney Michael Sussman.
Seibel accepted Dr. Kim Schlessinger's determination that at the time of the examination Thomas "is presently suffering from mental disease or defect rendering him mentally incompetent to the extent that he is unable to assist properly in his own defense."
The examination took place at the Metropolitan Corrections Center in Manhattan. The Bureau of Prisons will chose the medical facility where Thomas will be held.
Thomas has pleaded not guilty to a 10-count federal indictment accusing him of injuring five people while trying to kill them because of their religion and obstructing the free exercise of religion in an attempt to kill them.
Thomas' family and attorney has said he suffers from mental illness and is not anti-Semitic. He's been examined by several psychologists with an additional examination planned. Thomas, who's being held on $5 million bail in the Westchester County jail in Valhalla, allegedly stopped taking Latuda, an antipsychotic medication, in October 2019, Sussman has said.
Rockland District Attorney Thomas Walsh and his aides were reviewing Seibel's order.
Thomas has pleaded not guilty to the 14 count indictment in Rockland. The charges include six attempted murder charges and other felony counts. Judge Kevin Russo has yet to decide on his competency to stand trial as the District Attorney's Office planned to bring a second-degree murder charge before a grand jury.
Sussman has obtained an order from Seibel to have Neumann's body exhumed and a forensic pathologist autopsy on the remains for a cause of death. For Orthodox Jewish religious reasons, Neumann's family didn't want an autopsy conducted, a decision adhered to by the Rockland District Attorney's Office.Quick arrest
Thomas, who lived in Greenwood Lake, was arrested in Manhattan within hours of the attack by two NYPD officers who had been alerted to be on the lookout for a Nissan Sentra. Partygoer Josef Gluck had noted the license plate of the attacker's car and alerted Ramapo police, who put out a bulletin.
When Thomas was stopped, New York City police said he was covered in blood and the machete was found in his car. A knife also was found.
Prosecutors say bleach found in his car was evidence Thomas was trying to clean the blood off after the attack. However, Thomas routinely used bleach to wash himself and his clothing, Sussman said.
Based on a court warrant approved after the December attack, the FBI searched Thomas' home and his cellular telephone, finding references to Jews, Hitler, the Nazi culture, as well as packaging for an 18-inch machete, according to the complaint signed by FBI Special Agent Julie Brown.
The hand-written journal also referenced the Black Hebrew Israelites — the extremist group linked to one of the shooters in the fatal attack on a kosher grocery store earlier this month in Jersey City, New Jersey.
His cellphone's internet browser included November and December searches for topics such as "Why did Hitler hate the Jews," "German Jewish Temples near me," "Zionist Temples in Elizabeth, NJ," "Zionist Temples of Staten Island," and "Prominent companies founded by Jews in America," according to the complaint.
Why he chose the rabbi's home remains under investigation.
Thomas remains a suspect in the predawn attack and stabbing of a rabbi walking to synagogue on Howard Drive in Monsey on Nov. 20. Ramapo Police Chief Brad Weidel has said so far there was no evidence to charge Thomas in the November stabbing, but the police and FBI were investigating.
Steve Lieberman covers government, breaking news, courts, police and investigations.