The man accused of stabbing five people at a rabbi's New York home pleaded not guilty Monday to federal hate crime charges, CBS New York reported. The attorney for Grafton Thomas, 37, said his client suffers from severe mental illness, which is to blame for the attack. He said Thomas is not anti-Semitic.
Thomas is charged with five counts of targeting the victims because of their religion. He was previously charged with five counts of obstructing the free exercise of religion in an attempt to kill. Each count has a maximum sentence of life in prison.
Prosecutors said Thomas stormed into the home with a machete while a half-dozen Orthodox Jews were inside celebrating Chanukah. 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.
Following the attack, five victims were hospitalized with serious injuries. Josef Neumann, a 72-year-old grandfather, remains in intensive care. A GoFundMe page has been set up to help with his medical costs.
His youngest daughter, Nicky Kohen, told CBS New York that 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," she added.
Hate crimes targeting the Jewish community are on the rise in the New York area. The community is still recovering from last month's deadly attack at a kosher grocery store in New Jersey. Police in New York City said anti-Semitic26% between 2018 and 2019.
Earlier this month, thousands of people marched across the Brooklyn Bridge to support the Jewish community and speak out against hatred.