By JESSICA GRESKO
A lawyer for a man charged with attempting to assassinate President Barack Obama by shooting an assault rifle at the White House told a judge Friday that lawyers are working on a possible plea deal.
Oscar Ramiro Ortega-Hernandez, 22, who was arrested in Indiana, Pa., is scheduled go on trial later this month. The 2011 shooting didn’t hurt anyone but left more than five bullet marks on the executive mansion.
On Friday, one of Ortega-Hernandez’s lawyers, Robert Spelke, told a judge in federal court in Washington that he was “extremely hopeful” about resolving the case before trial. But a prosecutor assigned to the case, George Varghese, told the judge there was still a “gulf” between the parties, though they met for hours Thursday. Ortega-Hernandez has rejected a plea deal in the past.
Government lawyers say Ortega-Hernandez, a resident of Idaho Falls, Idaho, told acquaintances before the shooting that Obama was the Antichrist and the devil and he “needed to kill him.” Prosecutors say Ortega-Hernandez, who described himself as a “modern-day Jesus Christ,” bought a semi-automatic assault rifle and scope and practiced shooting on land in Idaho before driving to Washington.
About 9 p.m. on Nov. 11, Ortega-Hernandez drove his Honda Accord to an area south of the White House and opened fire with the weapon through his lowered passenger window, hitting the residence’s Truman balcony numerous times as well as the home’s solarium, prosecutors say. They allege he then sped off but crashed his car a short distance away and fled on foot. He was arrested in Pennsylvania.
Ortega-Hernandez’s trial is scheduled to begin Sept. 30 and last six weeks. Judge Rosemary M. Collyer said Friday that she would not move the date, and she set Sept. 19 as the day she will hear arguments on a number of issues before the trial.
Ortega-Hernandez’s lawyers want the judge to throw out six of the 19 charges against him. They say he shouldn’t face charges of assaulting the Secret Service officers who were on duty at the executive mansion that night. Ortega-Hernandez’s lawyers wrote in documents filed with the court in August that even assuming their client fired at the White House, there is no proof he knew the agents were present and therefore lacked the required intent to assault them. Prosecutors argue the charges are proper.
In addition, Ortega-Hernandez’s lawyers want jurors to know that the president and first lady were in California at the time of the shooting, but they don’t want jurors to hear that other members of the first family were at the White House that night. Prosecutors disagree on both points.
Both sides also have disputes over access to and use of certain information. Ortega-Hernandez’s lawyers want access to a six-page Secret Service report prepared after the shooting that details enhanced security measures put in place after the shooting and proposals for additional safety measures. They wrote in a court document they believe the report contains some assessment of the actual threat posed by the shooting. Prosecutors say the report does not contain any such assessment and argue they’re not required to disclose it. Both sides are also sparring over recordings of phone calls Ortega-Hernandez made from jail and tests performed on the gun recovered from Ortega-Hernandez’s car.
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