Suspect in White House shooting makes brief court appearance, remains jailed

Story highlights

  • Oscar Ramiro Ortega-Hernandez is charged with attempting to assassinate the president
  • A judge orders him to undergo a preliminary mental competency exam
  • Ortega tells the judge he does not have money for a lawyer
  • A federal public defender is appointed to his case
An Idaho man charged with trying to assassinate the president in a shooting incident outside the White House made his first court appearance in the nation's capital Monday for a brief hearing in which he was appointed federal public defenders but was not asked to enter a plea.
Oscar Ramiro Ortega-Hernandez, 21, is accused of firing shots at the White House 10 days ago, including some that hit the building near the residence area where President Barack Obama and his family live, according to a complaint document made public after Ortega, as he refers to himself, was arrested in western Pennsylvania last Wednesday.
Still with long hair and a beard as shown in photos released after authorities identified him as a suspect in the shooting, Ortega's legs were chained and he was kept handcuffed during the 15-minute hearing before Magistrate Judge Alan Kay. The judge ordered that Ortega remain jailed pending a preliminary mental competency examination in coming days -- as requested by prosecutors -- and the judge scheduled a preliminary hearing for next Monday in Washington.
Ortega was assigned two federal public defenders. One of those lawyers, David Bos, said the case should be dismissed because the criminal complaint issued last week does not contain probable cause. Bos said none of the witnesses mentioned in that document had identified his client.
Kay denied Bos' request saying there was sufficient evidence for the case to move forward.
Bos also objected to the competency examination, which was ordered by the judge at the request of the prosecution.
Bos told CNN he objected because he had just gotten the case and was not prepared to make any decisions on such matters. Bos added "any exam is invasive to some extent" to the defendant. Bos would not comment further about the case.
Assistant U.S. Attorney George Varghese argued that Ortega should remain detained for several reasons including the nature of the charge -- attempting to assassinate the president --and the fact that he had driven more than 2,000 miles from his home in Idaho to the scene of the shooting near the White House. Varghese noted authorities arrested Ortega in Pennsylvania after a multi-jurisdictional manhunt.
Kay, who agreed with prosecutors that Ortega should remain in jail, asked the defendant a few questions and Ortega answered each question in a calm voice, including whether he had money to hire a lawyer. "I do not," he responded.
In a criminal complaint issued last week,one unnamed witness who had known Ortega for more than six years said Ortega believed President Obama is "the devil." Another unnamed witness told law enforcement Ortega told the witness Obama was "the anti-Christ" and said he "needed to kill him."
On the night of the shooting, officials say the perpetrator fled in his car and wrecked near a bridge leading to Virginia. The criminal complaint said Ortega is listed as one of the two people who own that vehicle, a 1998 black Honda.
According to the document, a Romanian Cugir SA semi-automatic assault rifle was found in the car along with nine spent shell casings and three magazines of ammunition. Also found in the Honda was a black hooded jacket with the letters "LA" on it.
Earlier on the day of the shooting, Arlington County, Virginia, police stopped Ortega after receiving a report from a resident he was behaving suspiciously. He was not arrested, but the police photographed him wearing a black hooded jacket with "LA" emblazoned on it. The criminal complaint said it appears to be the same jacket investigators found in the abandoned car.
The president was in California the day of the shooting incident, traveling with first lady Michelle Obama later that night to Hawaii.