Idaho man might change plea in assassination-attempt case -- attorneys

Story highlights

  • Idaho man held since November is charged with attempted presidential assassination
  • Prosecutors add two counts in a superseding indictment just filed
  • Defense attorneys maintain "not guilty" plea for their client before deciding how to proceed
A man charged with attempting to assassinate the president by using a high-powered weapon to fire shots at the White House last November might change his not-guilty plea after a full review of the evidence, his attorneys said during a hearing Friday.
Oscar Ortega-Hernandez appeared in U.S. District Court and told the judge he understood the process so far. A security detail stood closely behind him.
In a 19-count indictment, amended after initially being handed up by a grand jury in January, he also is charged with putting lives in jeopardy, assault with a dangerous weapon, and using a firearm during a crime of violence. The tally includes two additional weapons charges added Thursday by prosecutors.
U.S. District Judge Rosemary Collyer granted a 60-day delay Friday after defense attorneys asked for more time to review the evidence prosecutors have disclosed as they build their case. Assistant public defender David Bos cited more than 3,500 documents so far, with more on the way from the government.
The attorneys told the judge they would not rule out changing Ortega-Hernandez's plea after they have completely reviewed the prosecution's extensive case.
The federal prosecutors said they expect to complete disclosure of the evidence to the defense by the end of May.
Prosecutor George Varghese later told reporters the plea could change at any time right up to a trial date, which has not yet been set. The next court date is set for July 20.
Bos and another public defender, Lara Quint, met with their client in a secure area behind the courtroom before the hearing. The defendant then emerged with an armed escort and took his place at the defense table. His long, dark hair merged with a full beard that flowed across a prison jumpsuit.
Ortega-Hernandez is accused of firing across the South Lawn and striking the White House on the night of November 11. Witnesses said shots came from a car in the area of the Ellipse, according to an FBI affidavit filed at the start of the case.
Investigators found several "bullet impact points" on or above the second floor of the White House, an area of "known residence for the first family," according to the FBI's document. Neither the president nor any family member was at home at the time of the incident.
Soon after authorities responded to the gunfire, they found an older Honda Accord with an Idaho registration listing Ortega-Hernandez as a co-owner. A witness told authorities the driver had crashed the vehicle and eventually ran away.
Inside the car, the FBI document said, was a Romanian semi-automatic assault rifle similar to an AK-47, with a large telescopic gunsight mounted on top, a supply of ammunition, and 12 spent shell casings.
Ortega-Hernandez was on the loose for 10 days after the shooting, and was apprehended November 21 near Pittsburgh. A District of Columbia-based judge who denied bail at the time cited a "strange flight from this area in a freight train," based on a witness who happened to be taking pictures of the train as it passed through West Virginia.
The witness saw a man riding a train who was identified as Ortega-Hernandez, the detention order said.
U.S Magistrate Judge John Facciola, in his order, said detention was warranted based on the "defendant's professed messianic complex, his belief that the president is the Anti-Christ, and his mission to kill or 'take care of' the president."