Jury recommends death penalty for man convicted of beheading co-worker

Alton Nolen exits the Cleveland County courthouse Oct. 12 after a jury recommended the death penalty for his first degree murder conviction. (KOKH/Anthony West)

A jury has recommended the death penalty for a man convicted of beheading a co-worker at a Moore food plant.

Alton Nolen learned his fate Thursday almost two weeks after being found guilty of first degree murder in the September 2014 beheading of his co-worker Colleen Hufford at Vaughan Foods. The jury began deliberating on sentencing around noon Thursday. After three hours, jurors returned and recommended the death penalty.

Cleveland County District Attorney Greg Mashburn said despite the long road to get there he was pleased with the outcome of the case.

"That's the verdict I wanted. I believe that's justice in this case," Mashburn said.

The verdict was a relief for the family of Colleen Hufford.

Kelli Beranek, Hufford's daughter, said the nightmare for her family was finally coming to a close.

"My dad lost his wife. Our community lost a wonderful woman and today is a small piece of closure." Beranek said. "Hopefully the lives of the other victims can continue to move forward."

Beranek thanked Mashburn and jurors for their work in the case.

"It's had its highs and its lows. Good days and bad days. Overall, I'm glad we finally reached this verdict." Beranek said. "We can all start remembering her as a person and not as a victim."

Several times during the course of the trial Traci Johnson, one of Nolen's victims, took the stand. She was excited and happy for the trial to be over.

"I don't have to worry about it anymore. I can rest in peace. Colleen can rest in peace," Johnson said.

Nolen's defense hasn't denied that he committed the crime but have argued he is mentally ill. Nolen was found mentally fit to be sentenced to the death penalty this week. The jury was deliberating whether to recommend he be sentenced to death, life in prison with parole or life in prison without parole.

Nolen's official sentencing will be held at 9:30 a.m. Dec. 15. An automatic appeals process will begin for Nolen following his sentencing.

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