NORMAN, Okla. - An Oklahoma man has been formally sentenced to death for beheading his coworker inside a food plant three years ago.
Alton Nolen, 33, was convicted of first-degree murder in late September for beheading his coworker Colleen Hufford inside Vaughan Foods in September 2014. Following a two-phase trial beginning in mid-September, jurors first recommended Nolen be sentenced to death in October.
In a proceeding lasting for less than 15 minutes, Judge Lori Walkley upheld the recommendation on Friday.
"May God have mercy on your soul," Judge Walkley said as she handed down the sentence.
Hufford's daughter, Kelli Baranek, says she isn't sure if her family could ever truly put her mother's death behind them, but she adds the healing process can now begin. Baranek has been to nearly every court hearing since her mother's murder.
"I won’t lie. There were days it was really hard to sit there very quiet and understand it’s all part of the process, but I also knew this day would come and here we are," she said. "While we may not ever have full-blown closure ever for the rest of our lives, at least it’s a small piece of closure."
Nolen will also serve three life sentences plus 130 years combined on assault charges for stabbing another coworker, Traci Jones, and attacking other workers inside the plant that day. Johnson survived the attack.
"I feel bad for him [Nolen], and I don’t know if that’s stupid or not but I feel bad for him," Johnson said Friday. "Justice was done. Justice was served, and I’m glad it’s over with. I don’t have anything to worry about anymore. Nobody’s going to hurt me at all."
In 2014, Nolen justified his actions to investigators by claiming he was a practicing Muslim and believed his actions were correct by the Quran.
After brief arguments from both Cleveland County DA Greg Mashburn and defense attorney Mitchell Solomon, Judge Walkey ruled Nolen will serve all of the sentences consecutively.
"I know he got the death penalty, and I know it may seem meaninglessness, but it’s not meaningless. There were individuals that were attacked that day and had to live through what they had to live through. They deserve to have a separate sentence," said Mashburn.
The appellate process generally takes between 10 and 15 years for any defendant who willingly wants to appeal. Should Nolen choose to not appeal, Mashburn says he could be executed sooner.
When the sentence was handed down, Nolen's behavior was exactly the same as it had been during the trial. He sat in silence with his ears covered and eyes shut.
"My guess is, if lawyers can’t communicate with him or he doesn’t want to communicate with them, then there’ll be some further litigation in the appellate court about what to do," said Mashburn.
News 4 reached out to Solomon for a comment following Friday's decision. He said it was "inappropriate to comment at this time" pending the appellate process.