A federal magistrate judge scheduled a hearing to determine whether an Idaho man accused of shooting at the White House in an attempt to assassinate President Barack Obama is mentally competent to stand trial.
U.S. Magistrate Judge John Facciola in Washington today ordered the hearing for Dec. 16 after prosecutors said a November mental health exam that found Oscar Ramiro Ortega-Hernandez to be competent wasn’t thorough.
“There are issues the government is aware of that were not addressed in the 50-minute screening,” George Varghese, an assistant U.S. attorney, argued during a brief hearing today.
Facciola said witnesses at the hearing may include the doctor who examined Ortega-Hernandez and one of his defense lawyers.
Prosecutors on Nov. 28 asked U.S. Magistrate Judge Alan Kay in Washington to order a full psychiatric or psychological screening “given the serious nature of the criminal charges” and the “likelihood that mental health issues may arise in the course of these proceedings.”
Lawyers for Ortega-Hernandez urged the court to reject the government’s request for another examination, arguing that their client has “exhibited no signs of any mental impairment” and is “actively” assisting in his defense.
In court papers, they accused prosecutors of “misconstruing” the competency inquiry as a prelude to an insanity defense, which hasn’t been raised.
“Our concern is that the government is trying to stick its nose into the defense camp, which is entirely improper at this stage,” David Bos, an assistant public defender, told Facciola.
Ortega-Hernandez, 21, is accused of firing a semi-automatic rifle at the White House on Nov. 11 in an attempt to kill Obama. He was arrested at a hotel near Indiana, Pennsylvania, on Nov. 16 after a task force of federal and local law enforcement officers searched for him.
Prosecutors said in court filings that Ortega-Hernandez drove to Washington with an assault rifle and other weapons after telling people in his home state of Idaho that he “needed” to assassinate the president.
Ortega-Hernandez fired shots from a street less than 800 yards from the White House just after 9 p.m. in Washington, prosecutors said. Obama already had departed for a nine-day trip to Hawaii and Asia.
The attempted assassination charge carries a maximum penalty of life in prison.
The case is U.S. v. Ortega-Hernandez, 11-00883, U.S. District Court, District of Columbia (Washington).