The suspect in a Hanukkahthat wounded five people last month was indicted by a federal grand jury Thursday on five additional hate crime charges. Federal prosecutors say 37-year-old Grafton Thomas targeted congregants celebrating the seventh night of Hanukkah at the Monsey home of Rabbi Chaim Rottenberg on December 28 because of their Jewish faith.
Thomas now faces a total of 10 federal hate crime counts, federal prosecutors from the Southern District of New York said in a statement. Each count carries a potential sentence of life in prison. Grafton was alreadywith five counts of obstruction of free exercise of religious beliefs involving an attempt to kill. He was indicted Thursday on those charges as well as five additional hate crime counts of willfully causing bodily injury because of their religion.
"The United States remains today a beacon of freedom for persecuted religious people all over the world, and violent attacks against anyone because of religion are both illegal and against everything our nation stands for," Assistant Attorney General Eric Dreiband said in a statement.
Grafton is also facing state charges of attempted murder and burglary.
Prosecutors say dozens of people were lighting candles and saying prayers at the rabbi's home, about 30 miles north of New York City, when Grafton entered, his face covered with a scarf. He allegedly said, "No one is leaving," before taking out a machete and stabbing and slashing people.
One of the victims, Josef Neumann, a great-grandfather, has not regained consciousness since suffering a skull fracture in the attack and
One man in the home was hailed as a hero for throwing a table at the attacker and taking down his license plate number as he fled the scene. Officers who arrested Thomas about two hours later in New York City said he had blood on his hands and clothing, and found a blood-stained 18-inch machete in his car, which smelled of bleach.
Thomas has pleaded not guilty, and his lawyer has said the attack was fueled by mental illness, not anti-Semitism. The lawyer, Michael Sussman, said Thomas has suffered from progressive mental health issues in the past 10 to 15 years, and had been receiving federal disability assistance. Sussman said Grafton was experiencing auditory hallucinations and may not have been taking his medication for depression and psychosis before the attack.
"This is the action of an individual who for a long time has decompensated and has been treated in mental health facilities," he said.
But prosecutors said in a federal complaint they found handwritten journals espousing anti-Semitic beliefs when they searched Grafton's Greenwood Lake home, including "referring to 'Adolf Hitler' and 'Nazi Culture' on the same page as drawings of a Star of David and a Swastika."
Investigators also discovered internet searches on Grafton's phone for terms including "Why did Hitler hate the Jews" and "German Jewish temples near me." The phone had also recently accessed an article about a string of anti-Semitic attacks in New York, according to a federal complaint.
Rabbi Rottenberg spoke Wednesday night outside of his home where the attack took place, reports The Journal News. He called for the community not to politicize the tragedy, but rather to "reflect on how we can eradicate evil from its source."
"When the forces of hatred strike, we must counter with the power of love, goodness towards our own humanity," Rottenberg said. "When the darkness hits, let the forces of light prevail."
Hate crimes targeting the Jewish community are on the rise in the New York area, and the community is still reeling from aon a kosher grocery store in Jersey City, New Jersey. Police in New York City said anti-Semitic hate crimes rose 26% between 2018 and 2019.
Last weekend, thousands of peopleto support the Jewish community and speak out against hatred.