Clayton Osbon, the JetBlue Airways Corp. (JBLU) pilot arrested after his erratic behavior led to the diversion of a flight, told a federal court he will rely on an insanity defense.
The pilot, 49, notified U.S. District Judge Mary Lou Robinson today in a filing by his lawyer, E. Dean Roper, at the federal court in Amarillo, Texas.
Osbon’s behavior while captaining a March 27 flight from New York to Las Vegas caused his co-pilot to bar him from the cockpit, according to an FBI agent’s affidavit filed with a criminal complaint the next day. After Osbon began shouting and pounding on the flight deck door, he was restrained by some of the plane’s passengers.
The plane diverted to Amarillo where he was taken into custody and charged the next day with interfering with the duties of a flight crew. He was indicted on April 11.
If the case follows the typical pattern of defense by insanity, prosecutors must still prove their case beyond a reasonable doubt and Osbon will formulate an argument that “negates that conduct in some legal way,” said McGregor Scott, a former federal prosecutor and partner at Orrick Herrington & Sutcliffe in Sacramento, California.
Osbon may agree to admit that he committed the acts prosecutors describe so he can focus exclusively on his insanity defense, Scott said. The strategy “avoids the risk of inflaming the jury” through passenger testimony of how Osbon threatened their safety, he said.
If the prosecution goes forward with its case, Osbon’s lawyers will argue he was “legally insane and therefore not legally culpable for his acts,” both sides will present psychiatric experts and a jury will make its determination, Scott said.
John Whitworth, the Federal Bureau of Investigation agent whose affidavit supported the criminal complaint, recounted Osbon’s behavior on that flight, as it was told to him by the co-pilot, by an off-duty pilot also aboard the plane and by three flight attendants.
While Osbon arrived late at New York’s John F. Kennedy International Airport, he didn’t initially display any “bizarre” behavior, Whitworth wrote.
In flight, Osbon told his co-pilot, “things just don’t matter,” Whitworth said, used the plane’s radio to yell at air traffic controllers, later switched off the radio, and told the co-pilot “we need to take a leap of faith” and “we are not going to Vegas.”
Robinson on April 4 ordered Osbon take a competency exam evaluating his fitness to stand trial and whether he was sane at the time of his alleged offense.
The case is U.S. v. Osbon, 12-cr-00017, U.S. District Court, Northern District of Texas (Amarillo).
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