- Associated Press - Tuesday, April 11, 2017

NORMAN, Okla. (AP) - An Oklahoma judge on Tuesday said she couldn’t accept a guilty plea from a man charged with beheading a co-worker at a food processing plant because the defendant refused to speak to her.

Cleveland County District Judge Lori Walkley instead ordered a jury trial for 32-year-old Alton Alexander Nolen, whom sheriff’s deputies had to subdue him after he kicked the swinging gate that separates attorneys from courtroom spectators, as he entered the courtroom.

“After that, the defendant put his fingers in his ears and refused to participate in any of the court hearings and didn’t answer any of the judge’s questions,” District Attorney Greg Mashburn told reporters after the hearing.

Nolen said in May 2016 he wanted to plead guilty and be sentenced to death in the 2014 beheading of Colleen Hufford, 54, at Vaughan Foods in Moore. But he was required to acknowledge that he stood by the guilty plea in order for sentencing to begin.

“If you continue to not talk to me, I will have no choice but to reject your plea and set this matter for a jury trial,” Walkley said.

Walkley last week heard the results of a mental examination she had ordered for Nolen, then ruled him competent to plea.

Prosecutors have said they will seek the death penalty.

“If I had my way, he’d be all the way already on death row but there’s a process that we’ve had to go through to have a fair proceeding and the judge has done that. Unfortunately, we’re just not there yet,” Mashburn said, calling the case “frustrating” and “a roller coaster ride” for both the families of the victims and for prosecutors.

Authorities say Nolen launched the attack in September 2014 at Vaughan Foods after the company suspended him for racial remarks. He killed Hufford and tried to kill co-worker Traci Johnson, also by decapitation, before he was shot by a company executive who was also an Oklahoma County Sheriff’s reserve deputy.

Nolen is charged with first-degree murder; assault and battery with a deadly weapon; assault with a deadly weapon; and three counts of assault and battery with a dangerous weapon.

Mashburn said he hopes the trial will begin in late May or early June.

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