Nov. 18 (Bloomberg) -- An Idaho man suspected of firing a semi-automatic rifle at the White House was charged with trying to kill President Barack Obama.
The suspect, Oscar Ramiro Ortega-Hernandez of Idaho Falls, drove to Washington with an assault rifle and other weapons after telling people in his home state that he “needed” to assassinate the president, according to documents filed in federal court in Washington. The attempted assassination charge carries a maximum penalty of life in prison.
Ortega-Hernandez, 21, appeared in federal court in Pittsburgh yesterday after his arrest the day before by Pennsylvania State Police at a hotel near Indiana, Pennsylvania. A U.S. magistrate judge ordered him held in custody pending proceedings in Washington, prosecutors said in an e-mailed statement.
Ortega-Hernandez has referred to Obama as “the anti- Christ” and “the devil,” according to documents filed in the case. He told associates that the federal government was conspiring against him and that Obama was the problem with the government and “needed to be taken care of,” Chris Ormerod, a special agent of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, said in his affidavit.
A task force of federal and local law enforcement agencies had been searching for the gunman who fired shots that hit the White House just after 9 p.m. local time on Nov. 11.
Obama had already departed for a nine-day trip to Hawaii and Asia at the time of the shooting.
Fired From Street
The shots were fired from a street less than 800 yards south of the executive mansion, Edwin M. Donovan, a Secret Service spokesman, said.
Park Police were told by a witness that a dark-colored sedan stopped on Constitution Avenue near 17th Street where the driver began shooting through the passenger side window in the direction of the White House, according to Ormerod’s affidavit, which was filed with the complaint.
After the shooting, the sedan drove off at a high speed, according to the witness account in the affidavit. Minutes later, investigators with the U.S. Park Police and U.S. Secret Service found an abandoned black 1998 Honda Accord with Idaho license plates.
Inside the vehicle, investigators found a Romanian Cugir SA semi-automatic assault rifle with a large scope mounted on top, according to the affidavit. Investigators found three magazines loaded with 7.62 x 39 mm cartridges and nine spent shell casings. Also found in the vehicle were brass knuckles, an aluminum baseball bat, and clothing.
Registration records showed Ortega-Hernandez was one of the listed owners of the vehicle, investigators said in the affidavit.
On Nov. 16, FBI investigators searched the area around the White House and found several bullet impact points on the south side of the building “on or above” the second story. Obama and his family reside on the second and third floors of the White House, the affidavit states.
One of the bullets recovered has a diameter, weight and design of the type of bullets found in the Honda, the affidavit alleges.
Lindsay Godwin, a spokeswoman for the FBI’s Washington field office, said an evidence team is processing the scene and looking for anything in the vicinity of where the shots were fired and trying to determine the trajectory.
To convict Ortega-Hernandez, the government will have to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that he “specifically intended” to kill the president and took a “substantial step” to carry out that intention, said Bernie Grimm, a criminal defense lawyer at Cozen O’Connor in Washington. Grimm isn’t involved in the case.
Prosecutors could have a hard time proving intent, said John Zwerling, a criminal-defense attorney with Zwerling, Leibig & Moseley PC in Alexandria, Virginia, who also isn’t involved in the case.
“I don’t know how they can prove he was trying to kill someone if he can’t see them, didn’t necessarily even know if the person was in the building or by the window, or that the window was the kind of window you could shoot through,” Zwerling said.
Francisco Martin Duran was convicted of the attempted murder of President Bill Clinton after firing at least 29 shots through a fence on the north grounds of the White House in October 1994, according to a Treasury Department report on White House security. He was sentenced to 40 years in prison.
Eleven rounds hit the White House facade and one bullet penetrated a window of the press briefing room. Clinton was in the residence watching television when the shooting took place, according to the report.
Duran, who was 26-years-old at the time of the shooting, told several people he intended to kill the president prior to leaving Colorado and investigators found a handwritten note saying “Kill the Pres!” in an atlas in his truck, according to the report.
The case is U.S. v. Ortega-Hernandez, 11-833, U.S. District Court, District of Columbia (Washington).
--With assistance from Kate Andersen Brower and Jeff Bliss in Washington. Editors: Andrew Dunn, Fred Strasser
To contact the reporters on this story: Tom Schoenberg in Washington at firstname.lastname@example.org; Seth Stern in Washington at email@example.com.
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