MAYVILLE, NY — A New Jersey man accused of stabbing author Salman Rushdie last week in Chautauqua, New York, pleaded not guilty Thursday to charges brought by a grand jury. Additional charges are possible, the prosecutor said.
The defendant, Hadi Matar, 24, who was apprehended Aug. 12 after authorities said he rushed to the stage at the Chautauqua Institution amphitheater and stabbed Rushdie, 75, and injured another speaker, Henry Reese, 73, pleaded not guilty in the second degree. attempted murder and second degree assault.
Chautauqua County District Attorney Jason Schmidt said the charges carry a maximum combined sentence of 32 years in prison and his office will continue to develop new evidence against Matar.
“We do that constantly — looking at the fees, where they currently stand and seeing if there are opportunities to improve those fees,” he said. “It really depends on where the facts take us.”
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Chautauqua County Judge David Foley imposed temporary protective orders to keep Matar from interacting with Rushdie and Reese for up to a year. This includes online interactions, harassment or threats, and communications via a third party. Matar was also ordered to turn over all firearms to the New York State Police.
Foley also imposed a temporary gag order preventing court officials and law enforcement from discussing the case with the press. The order was a recommendation from Matar’s defense attorney, Chautauqua County Public Defender Nathanial Barone, who insisted the pretrial publicity of the case had already tarnished a jury pool potentials.
“The more leaks or the more things are out there, (the more that) is going to influence jurors in that county and the opinions they form,” Barone said. “Anyone charged with a crime has the right to a fair trial, and that is something that is the cornerstone of our society.”
Matar, who appeared in court in handcuffs on Thursday, is scheduled to attend an evidence discovery conference Sept. 7 in Chautauqua County Court.
He was returned to the Chautauqua County Jail without bond.
Matar was charged following the attack last week through a criminal complaint. The grand jury indictment supersedes the original charges.
Rushdie ‘deliberately targeted’, says DA
During the arraignment, Schmidt described how Matar, a resident of Fairview, New Jersey, traveled to Chautauqua on August 11, possessing fake IDs, cash, prepaid VISA cards, and several knives.
On August 12, shortly before 11 a.m., Matar took the stage at the Chautauqua Institution’s 4,000-seat amphitheater and attacked Rushdie who was preparing to give a talk alongside Reese, Schmidt continued.
Rushdie was “stabbed a dozen times,” Schmidt said, including three times in the neck and four times in the abdomen, as well as in the chest, hand, thigh and right eye.
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Referring to an article published Wednesday in the New York Post – in which Matar expressed his dislike of Rushdie and acknowledged how the author “attacked Islam” – Schmidt said Matar had “deliberately targeted” Rushdie.
Schmidt described how Rushdie lived under a long-standing fatwa, or essential death threat, from Iran’s rulers because of his writings, which many Muslims consider blasphemous.
“The Iranian government welcomed the attack,” Schmidt said.
Schmidt requested that Matar — although he has no documented criminal history or known contacts in Chautauqua County — be denied bail because he could be forced out of the country or potentially be financed by those who sympathize with its actions.
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Defense says people’s case is ‘speculative’
Barone called Schmidt’s argument “speculative” and an “extension of the imagination”.
“There is no indication that he will leave the country,” Barone said. “Almost any defendant in this court could leave the county or the country.”
Barone said Matar was a US citizen, born in California, who worked as an inventory clerk at a department store and previously performed jury duty. He pointed out that Matar had no criminal record and that Schmidt’s argument was based more on opinions than facts.
“Nothing has been proven,” Barone said.
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Foley denied the bail request but approved Barone’s request for a gag order for court officials and law enforcement, particularly in light of the New York Post article.
Rushdie, who underwent surgery at UPMC Hamot Erie, is recovering and is able to speak, according to reports from The Associated Press. Reese, who suffered a minor facial injury, was released from an Erie hospital the day of the attack.
AJ Rao can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @ETNRao.