Appeals court upholds death sentence in 2014 beheading case

Jamie Berry, The Norman Transcript, Okla.
·3 min read

Mar. 18—The Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals upheld the conviction and death sentence Thursday for a man sentenced in the beheading of Colleen Hufford, 54, at Vaughan Foods in Moore in 2014.

A 12-member jury found Alton Nolen, now 36, guilty on Sept. 29, 2017, of killing a fellow coworker and hurting other coworkers and recommended the death penalty two weeks later.

Nolen was convicted of six counts, including first-degree murder and five counts of assault and battery with a deadly weapon.

Cleveland County District Judge Lori Walkley granted the jury's suggested sentence in Dec. 15, 2017.

According to a press release, Nolen's attorneys argued that Nolen shouldn't be put to death because he was mentally ill and incompetent to stand trial. They also claimed improper jury selection, improper photographic evidence — including four photographs characterized by Nolen's defense team as gruesome and disturbing — and prosecutorial misconduct.

According to a Moore Police affidavit, Nolen had been suspended from his production line job Sept. 25, 2014, prior to the incident due to a complaint. At 4 p.m. that same day, he entered the front office with a butcher knife, stabbing coworkers and beheading Hufford, before he was shot with a rifle by company executive and Oklahoma County Sheriff's reserve deputy Mark Vaughan.

He also stabbed coworker Traci Johnson, who filed the complaint, multiple times, according to police reports.

According to state's exhibits during the trial, Nolen said he told a coworker that he "beat on caucasians." The employee filed a threats report, and Nolen was subsequently suspended and removed from the business.

During interviews with Moore police detectives and FBI agents, Nolen justified beheading Hufford by saying he felt oppressed by her and, based on his interpretation of the Quran, he had the means to get rid of his oppressor. He claimed to be Muslim during the trial.

"I felt oppressed [by Hufford] for some reason," Nolen said. "I felt [the attack] was what I was supposed to do, and it's what I went and did."

During the jury trial, different religious expert witnesses said they believed Nolen cobbled together different teachings and ideas from several religions and that Nolen's beliefs didn't align with the Muslim religion.

According to previous reports, Nolen initially wanted to plead guilty and wanted the death penalty. However, his defense attorneys said he wasn't competent to make a plea, and extensive competency hearings were done. Later, Nolen refused to make a plea, so his attorneys filed a plea of not guilty by reason of insanity.

Records show that Nolen, originally from Idabel, had an extensive criminal history, which includes incarceration for possession of marijuana, escaping from detention, assault and battery on a police officer and possession of a controlled substance with intent to distribute cocaine.

During later trials, Nolen was found to not be intellectually disabled, which Nolen disputed.

In the court of appeals opinion document, the court found that Nolen's death sentence "was not the result of trial error or improper evidence or witness testimony and that the death sentence was not imposed under the influence of any abitrary factor, passion or prejudice."