An Idaho man accused of shooting at the White House in an attempt to assassinate President Barack Obama was declared mentally fit to stand trial.
U.S. Magistrate Judge John Facciola in Washington today rejected a government request that Oscar Ramiro Ortega-Hernandez undergo a 30-day psychological exam, ruling that he hasn’t seen “any evidence” to overrule an earlier assessment that Ortega-Hernandez understands the legal process and the charges against him. The judge scheduled a detention hearing for Dec. 19.
“Delusional thinking does not compel a decision of incompetence,” Facciola said at the end of a 1 1/2-hour hearing. The judge said if Ortega-Hernandez’s mental state changes, prosecutors can file another request for an exam.
Prosecutors said a 50-minute November mental health exam in the court’s cellblock that found Ortega-Hernandez to be competent wasn’t thorough and didn’t take into account statements he allegedly made in a videotape that authorities said he planned to submit to the Oprah Winfrey Network.
The statements include Ortega-Hernandez’s claim that the government puts fluoride in products to “dumb down” Americans and that smoking marijuana is the key to world peace.
Prosecutors said in court papers they wanted a full psychiatric or psychological screening “given the serious nature of the criminal charges” and the “likelihood that mental health issues may arise.” They didn’t argue that Ortega-Hernandez was incompetent.
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.
“I have no concerns about Mr. Ortega-Hernandez’s competency,” David Bos, an assistant federal public defender, told Facciola.
In court papers and in court, the defense accused prosecutors of misconstruing the competency inquiry as a prelude to an insanity defense, which hasn’t been raised.
Today’s hearing included testimony from Elizabeth Teegarden, the D.C. Mental Health Department doctor who evaluated Ortega-Hernandez last month. She said he denied making or refused to discuss statements in the criminal complaint from witnesses who claim he talked about his hatred for Obama.
“There certainly may be some mental health issues here,” Teegarden said. “I didn’t see any during my 50-minute exam.”
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 had left for a trip to Hawaii and Asia.
The attempted assassination charge carries a maximum penalty of life in prison.
Prosecutors said in court filings that ballistic tests confirmed that two bullets and one bullet jacket recovered from the grounds of the White House were fired from the rifle found in Ortega-Hernandez’s car.
Ortega-Hernandez’s fingerprints were the only ones found on the magazines for the assault rifle, prosecutors said.
The case is U.S. v. Ortega-Hernandez, 11-00883, U.S. District Court, District of Columbia (Washington).