NORMAN, Okla. - Jurors involved in the penalty phase for a man convicted in a gruesome workplace attack learned more about his childhood and academic past Tuesday morning.
Alton Nolen, 33, has been convicted of first-degree murder and five assault charges for beheading his former coworker, Colleen Hufford, and stabbing Traci Johnson in September 2014 inside of Vaughan Foods. Four of the assault charges were in relation to attacking other coworkers inside the food processing plant when they tried to help Hufford and Johnson.
State prosecutors are seeking the death penalty for the murder charge but, before that can be determined, jurors must decide whether Nolen is intellectually disabled.
If Nolen is found to be intellectually disabled, he will no longer be eligible for the death penalty. If the jury cannot reach a unanimous decision or reject the defense altogether, Nolen may still be eligible.
The defense called five witnesses to the stand Tuesday: Nolen's former high school counselor, Evorn Jones; a current inmate who knew him as a child; his sister, Paige Nolen; a woman who Nolen once lived with; and intellectual disability specialist, Dr. Dan Reschly.
Reschly testified Nolen was living with a mild intellectual disability. He came to the conclusion after an evaluation which included his police records and academic background. According to Reschly, Nolen had a "low intelligence."
Jones told the court Nolen performed poorly in the 9th grade and was ultimately sent to the alternative school Booker T. Washington, which they believed would be better fit for his academic needs, however she did not testify Nolen was intellectually disabled. Instead, she said it was possible Nolen was "undereducated."
Jones also testified the courses Nolen took at Booker T. Washington were not "special education" classes.
His sister, Paige, told the courtroom her older brother struggled with school work while they were in middle school, namely English. She testified he often relied on her help with homework despite being three years older.
According to Reschly, limited literacy is a characteristic of mild intellectual disability.
Prior to the mental retardation deliberation, Nolen was handed three life sentences plus 130 years in prison on five assault crimes in relation to the beheading.