White House shooting suspect pleads not guilty

 Oscar Ramiro Ortega-Hernandez is expected to enter a not guilty plea at his arraignment Tuesday, his lawyer has said.

Story highlights

  • Oscar Ortega-Hernandez will remain in custody until his trial
  • He was indicted last week on 17 criminal counts
  • He is accused of shooting a rifle at the White House in November
An Idaho man accused of trying to assassinate President Barack Obama by shooting at the White House pleaded not guilty, as expected, in federal court Tuesday.
Oscar Ortega-Hernandez will remain in custody until his trial, a date for which has not yet been scheduled.
He appeared in a dark blue prison jumpsuit at his brief arraignment hearing before Magistrate Judge Deborah Robinson. He was indicted last week on 17 criminal counts.
Prosecutors say Ortega-Hernandez fired a Romanian-made assault rifle out of the window of his car the evening of November 11. After allegedly sending a number of rounds toward the White House, he sped away toward a bridge leading to the Virginia suburbs, but crashed his vehicle and fled on foot, officials say.
A court document says Ortega-Hernandez's fingerprints were found on ammunition magazines left in a 1998 Honda, but not on the weapon itself, which also was left in the car.
Neither the president nor his family was at home at the time of the incident.
Ortega-Hernandez said nothing at Tuesday's hearing, but appeared alert, nodding and smiling at the judge as the hearing concluded. He wore a heavy beard and was not in restraints.
An FBI agent had testified at an earlier hearing that bullets found embedded in the White House residence came from Ortega-Hernandez's assault weapon.
The 21-year-old man claimed after his arrest that he had been car-jacked by a man with a gun on the day of the crime, and said his assailant must have been responsible for the shooting, according to court filings. He also allegedly told the officers he never owned a gun, but the government cited two witnesses from Idaho confirming the rifle left in the car belonged to Ortega-Hernandez.
A federal public defender representing Ortega-Hernandez had previously claimed inconsistent witness statements raised doubts about whether he was the shooter. Attorney David Bos cited one witness who said the shooter was driving a yellow van. Police had said Ortega-Hernandez was driving a dark-colored sedan.
Bos did not object Tuesday when the magistrate ruled the defendant would continue to be held behind bars. Another hearing is scheduled for next month.
Ortega-Hernandez was captured at a Pennsylvania motel days after the incident. He told police he hitchhiked and walked from the District of Columbia.
Another federal judge previously ruled him competent to stand trial. Ortega-Hernandez has been interviewed at least once by a psychologist, and the doctor said he is able to understand the allegations against him and to aid in his defense.
In court documents, prosecutors argue Ortega-Hernandez is dangerous and planned out his alleged crime over a period of months.
If convicted of attempting to assassinate the president, Ortega-Hernandez would face a maximum sentence of life in prison.