The trial of Stanley Majors
Found guilty of murder, a hate crime, and other charges, Majors’ years of terrorism come to an end
Illustration by Jared Rudichuk
In the fall of 2016, I lived in Brooklyn. Every morning I’d walk across the street to One Yemen, a 24-hour bodega, to buy an orange and a banana. The proprietor and the men who worked there spoke hard, workmanlike Arabic with one another as I placed the fruit on the counter.
Sometimes I’d go with a friend from Lebanon. When she spoke on the phone with her family in Beirut, she used a softer Arabic; it sounded less in the throat and more on the lips. She peppered her English with it, and when I needed comfort, she called me “Habibi”: my darling, my love. Like a pet name. Like “baby.” Ha-bee-bee.
During this time in Tulsa, on a hot August day, Stanley Majors and his husband Stephen Schmauss were having an argument.
Majors suspected that the person Schmauss was talking to on his cell phone was not, as he claimed, a VA nurse, but instead a secret lover. Majors stole the phone and mimicked Schmauss, but the nurse didn’t buy it. Finally, he hung up.
Majors picked up a gun. The couple had owned a Smith & Wesson .45 for less than a year, and neither knew how to use it. Regardless, he shot Schmauss’s cell phone and fired into a trash can, then he struck Schmauss with the butt of it. Schmauss fled, telling his next-door neighbor, Khalid Jabara, to call the police, which he did.
When the police arrived, Majors peered through the blinds at them, then disappeared. After the officers left, he picked up the gun, went next door, and entered into a physical struggle with Khalid Jabara, ending with Jabara shot in the back.
Jabara died, killed for his real heritage and what Majors imagined was his religion. Majors constantly accused the Jabaras, a family of Lebanese immigrants, of being Muslim, when in fact they are Orthodox Christians. (“They throw gay people off rooftops,” Majors said of them, confusing his next-door neighbors with the terrorist organization ISIS.)
Majors was found hours later behind the Hardesty Regional Library, pretending to be homeless.
For more than a year the case dawdled, coming to trial at January’s end. I attended. Last year, I wrote about the Khalid Jabara Tikkun Olam Memorial Library, a children’s library created in Jabara’s honor. This year, I wanted to see what—if any—justice would be done.
Murder trials are not as we imagine them. The objections are not loud or abrupt; they are often predictable and quiet, so quiet that the judge reprimands the attorneys for failing to speak loudly. The opening and closing arguments are not wild or passionate. They’re precise and methodical.
Majors pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity (schizophrenia) to three charges: murder in the first degree, malicious intimidation and harassment on basis of identity (Oklahoma’s hate crime law), and threatening with a handgun. (According to a neighbor’s testimony, when she ran to the scene that night, Majors said to her, “Get out of here, or I’ll shoot you, too.”)
The prosecution suggested Majors killed Jabara, in part, due to jealousy of his friendship with his husband. “Steve [Schmauss] loved computers,” Haifa Jabara, Khalid’s mother, said in court. “My son understood his language.”
“Did you suck his cock every day?” Majors asked his husband in a call from David L. Moss. “I bet you guys worship Satan together.”
Schmauss, who died before the trial, said in testimony, “I feel sorry for him. I want them both back.” The testimony revealed an increasing tendency, in the years leading up to the murder, for Schmauss and Majors to shout and fight.
Sometimes these fights led to physical abuse. “I don’t want you telling them I gave you a black eye,” Majors told Schmauss in another jail call. “The way you got the black eye is I was grabbing the cell phone from you, it slipped and hit you, and you got a black eye. That’s what I want you to say.”
Throughout the trial, Majors sat still as a frozen lake—probably, as the court later learned, due to the maximum-recommended dose of haloperidol, an anti-psychotic medication, which he was prescribed.
During those seven days, I only saw Majors move twice.
Once was to look at the Jabara family. During a break, he turned his head and stared at them for minutes at a time. Of all the blank stares I’ve seen in my life, that was the blankest. Both menacing and mawkish, it seemed to ask for leniency while threatening punishment if mercy was withheld. In that stare I saw a white man crumbling.
Stanley Majors might be the whitest man I’ve ever seen. His skin, hair, and mustache are all ghostly. Some of this is age, some lack of sunlight, and much of it is his unadulterated racism. In jail calls between Majors and Schmauss, he expressed fears that Muslims were taking over the country. “It’s distressing,” he also said. “I don’t like Lebanese.” He celebrated getting a white cellmate.
In addition, Majors benefited from a huge bundle of what can be seen only as white privileges—privileges that left him a clear path to murder Khalid Jabara. After a felony case and restraining order in Los Angeles in 2009; after, according to Haifa Jabara, he made racist and aggressive remarks at least once a week before the protective order in 2013; after he was arrested that same year for driving with a suspended license, without insurance, and with a felony hold from California; after he was, according to records, released to the California court system as a fugitive from justice that same year; after violating his protective order once in 2015; and after hitting Haifa with his car while facing a warrant for his failure to appear for the previous violation (within that charge: assault and battery, leaving the scene, violation of a protective order, and public intoxication), he was still allowed to live next to the Jabaras.
Terence Crutcher was killed for trying to reach inside his SUV. Philando Castile was killed for following the law. Eric Garner was killed for selling single cigarettes. According to police testimony, not a single cop pulled their gun on Majors after he hit Haifa with a car or after he killed Khalid with a Smith & Wesson. He was, as white people generally continue to be, innocent until proven guilty in the eyes of the law, unlike the aforementioned individuals and countless others. But Majors was already guilty, in several ways. And he was still allowed to move back home, next to the Lebanese family he raged against.
Much of the onus of responsibility to keep Majors away from the Jabaras fell to the state. The Frontier reported in 2016 that, after hitting Haifa with his car, Majors offered to move away while in court with Judge William LaFortune. LaFortune said that such a move would make him “feel a lot better about the situation.” He must not feel well, because such a move never happened and was never mandated. LaFortune even turned down an ankle monitor for Majors. The justice system failed the Jabaras over and over.
At the end of the trial, on February 7, the jury disappeared and came back within two and a half hours. The foreperson handed the verdict to Judge Sharon Holmes, who asked Majors and his attorneys to stand. This was the second time I saw Stanley Majors move.
Guilty to the first, Holmes read. Guilty to the second. Guilty to the third. And, when a short trial was performed afterwards to ascertain his guilt for possessing a handgun after his felony in California, guilty to the fourth. They gave him the maximum sentence: life without parole. It was justice, but Khalid Jabara was still dead.
“I learned so much from him,” Khalid’s brother Rami said after the trial concluded. “I tried to be like him in many ways. He was so unique to so many people … Trying to convey that to someone who didn’t know him is extremely difficult.”
“We just want to feel safe again,” Khalid’s sister Victoria said. “We just want to try to move forward and do our part to tell Khalid’s story and to let the community and the world know what an amazing human he was. Someone in court said that he would give the shirt off his back, and that is 100 percent true. We have to find ways to continue to honor him.”
Every month I go back to the children’s library dedicated in Khalid’s honor for Social Justice Story Hour. The kids sing “Salaam, salaam” (“peace, peace”). They sings songs about building the world from love and about being made of light. They act like children—they speak over people, they cry and cough and fart, they crawl up to the storyteller and tug on her dress. After all, they’re babies. But you should hear them and the languages they sing in—English, Spanish, Hebrew, Hindi, and Arabic.
They have neither the growl of the Brooklyn shopkeeper nor the lilt of my friend from Beirut. Really, they barely understand what they’re saying. But they will someday, when it’s time again to remember why peace and justice are ideals not only worth singing for, but worth fighting for. They’re learning how to prevent the wounds of injustice and, when that’s impossible, how to balm them.