Matar Officially Charged In Stabbing Of Noted Author

Hadi Matar is escorted into Chautauqua County Court Thursday afternoon, as multiple members of the media record his every move. P-J photo by Gregory Bacon

MAYVILLE — Hadi Matar, 24, shuffled into Chautauqua County Court wearing striped prison garb, fully handcuffed, a white mask over his mouth and nose, and bright orange crocs for shoes.

There was a sea of media sitting in the jury pool, videotaping his every step. He stood next to Public Defender Nathaniel Barone and faced County Court Judge David Foley.

He spoke very little; a couple times he said “yes” to the judge when asked about if he understood what was going on.

It was in that same courtroom Friday when Matar was told he was being charged with second-degree attempted murder for the alleged stabbing of noted author Salman Rushdie. He was additionally charged with second-degree assault for allegedly physically injuring another person during the stabbing. That other person is believed to be Ralph Henry Reese, 73, who was on stage when Rushdie was attacked, however a copy of the indictment handed out to media blacked out the second victim’s name.

According to District Attorney Jason Schmidt, a guilty verdict for attempted murder carries up to 25 years and a guilty verdict for second-degree assault carries a seven-year sentence. The two sentenced can run consecutively, meaning Matar faces up to 32 years in jail.

Schmidt also requested that Matar not be eligible for bail, which Foley granted.

Schmidt called Matar a flight risk and said he could easily flee not only Chautauqua County and New York state, but the country.

“If he were to walk out of the Chautauqua County Jail, he could potentially leave the United States by way of countless number of foreign forces and from there travel to other countries who would protect him and we would never get him back to pay for the crimes that were committed against Mr. Rushdie, a guest in our community,” he said.

Barone argued that he believes his client should be afforded bail. He noted how Matar does not have a criminal record and said Schmidt’s concerns are based on “speculation,” saying there is no evidence anyone would fund Matar’s attempt to leave the country. After Foley denied bail, the public defender placed his objection on the record.

Even though Matar will remain behind bars, Foley also put in place an order or protection for one year against the two victims, saying Matar is prohibited to contact them in person, electronically, by mail, or any other form of communication. He was also ordered to surrender any firearms he may possess.

Earlier in the week, Matar had a video interview with the New York Post in which Matar, while behind bars, discussed how when he learned of Rushdie’s visit to Chautauqua Institution months prior, decided he would travel to the lecture and try to take Rushdie’s life.

That interview with the Post was quoted by Schmidt as part of his argument to deny bail to Matar.

The interview also seemed to upset Barone.

“I have spoken to jail authorities, trying to get as much information as I could regarding that, and I’ve indicated and told the jail I have at no time authorized any individual, either with government assistance or without government assistance, to talk to Mr. Matar,” the public defender said.

Barone further asked Foley to bar anyone from interviewing his client in the future. Foley questioned Barone’s request.

“I’m not sure as county court judge, I can tell the public they’re not allowed to contact the Chautauqua County Jail,” Foley said.

Barone said he understood, but wants to make sure his client is protected by the full extent of the law.

He continued, saying that this case has attracted worldwide attention. Because of this, and because Chautauqua County is a relatively low population, Barone requested a gag order to be placed, to prevent jury tainting.

“We have a limited jury pool. Every day that goes by on this particular case, there’s an additional 10, 20, hundreds, thousands of articles,” he said.

Foley agreed that the case has had a lot of publicity and temporarily ordered lawyers on both sides from talking to the media. He did not say how long the gag order would be in place, but said he would accept arguments from both sides to consider lifting it in the future.

Matar of Fairview, N.J., is accused of stabbing Rushdie a dozen times before a lecture at Chautauqua Institution Friday, Aug. 19. During court Thursday, Schmidt said Matar rushed Rushdie when he had his back facing him and stabbed him three times in the neck, four times in the stomach, two times in the chest, in his right eye, his hand and his thigh.

Matar told the NY Post that he did it because Rushdie disrespected Islam with his book “The Satanic Verses,” which was published in 1988. He said he was surprised Rushdie survived the attack.

Multiple media sources have reported that Rushdie is in critical but stable condition. He was temporarily on a ventilator and is expected to lose his right eye, but he has begun talking.


Today's breaking news and more in your inbox

I'm interested in (please check all that apply)
Are you a paying subscriber to the newspaper? *


Starting at $4.62/week.

Subscribe Today