White House shooting suspect competent to aid in his defense, attorney says

Story highlights

  • Oscar Ortega Hernandez needs no further mental testing, his attorney says
  • Government prosecutors have said they want a more thorough exam
  • The defense is leaving open the option of claiming he was insane at the time of the shooting
  • He is accused of shooting at the White House on November 7

An Idaho man accused of attempting to assassinate President Barack Obama is able to assist in his defense and does not need further testing to determine if he is mentally competent to stand trial, one of his lawyers said Wednesday.

Oscar Ortega Hernandez, 21, is accused of firing shots at the White House on November 11 with a Romanian-made assault rifle.

Ortega was captured in Pennsylvania five days later and has been in jail ever since.

"Mr. Ortega-Hernandez has been actively involved in the defense of his case," said David Bos, one of his federal public defenders. Bos told a federal judge that Ortega understands what is happening and the roles played by his defense lawyers, the prosecutors and the judge.

Ortega was in court but said nothing. He was wearing a dark jail jumpsuit and leg manacles, but no handcuffs.

After an initial 50-minute mental screening of Ortega last month, a clinical psychologist said he is competent to stand trial. Government prosecutors said they did not dispute the doctor's findings but considered the exam too brief. Ortega should be examined more thoroughly, they said.

A competency hearing scheduled for Wednesday was continued until Friday, when prosecutors are expected to present evidence to support their argument the defendant needs more mental screening. It's not clear when a judge will rule on whether Ortega is competent to stand trial.

Ortega's lawyers filed a document Monday saying they have not raised the possibility of using an insanity defense during trial and the government is engaged in a "fishing expedition." In the document, the defense lawyers said Ortega has already appeared at several court hearings and "exhibited no sign of any mental impairment."

But the defense is not excluding the option of trying to mount an insanity defense later in the case. The defense filing says the competency to stand trial issue is narrowly focused on Ortega's ability to understand and participate in legal proceedings now and is not intended to address whether he was insane at the time he allegedly fired a rifle at the White House.

The criminal complaint charging Ortega includes statements by unnamed witnesses who know Ortega. One is quoted as saying Ortega views President Barack Obama as "the anti-Christ" and said he "needed to kill him." Another person said Ortega called Obama "the devil" and said he would "not stop until it's done."

In a December 7 filing, prosecutors said statements by various people who know Ortega have raised questions about his mental state, including that he "heard a voice from God." Some witnesses also told investigators Ortega warned "the federal government was intending to implant global positioning system chips inside the bodies of U.S. citizens in order to track them."

Ortega would face a maximum of life in prison if convicted of attempting to assassinate the president.

Obama was in California the night of the shooting incident. No one was injured. The Secret Service reported several days later that some bullets hit the exterior of the White House.