Man accused of Appalachian Trail murder pleads not guilty by reason of insanity

Published: Apr. 22, 2021 at 12:50 PM EDT
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ABINGDON, Va. (WDBJ) - A federal judge has accepted a plea of not guilty by reason of insanity from a man charged with killing an Appalachian Trail hiker and attacking another with a hunting knife in Virginia.

James Jordan of West Yarmouth, Massachusetts, was accused of stabbing to death 43-year-old Ronald Sanchez Jr., of Oklahoma City, and wounding a female hiker in May 2019.

The acceptance of the plea Thursday by Judge James Jones at the Abingdon federal courthouse means Jordan will be committed indefinitely to a psychiatric facility within the Bureau of Prisons. Jordan waived his right to trial by jury and an additional evaluation.

The judge said he had sympathy for the victims after reading their letters and emails.

He made sure Jordan understood each paper he signed and was fully understanding of the rights he was waiving.

Jordan has a history of mental illness and was originally found incompetent to stand trial in this case until a judge reversed that ruling.

Jordan offered a brief, prepared apology in court, and his attorneys offered this statement:

“We know today, and every day since May 10, 2019, has been very difficult for the victims in this case and their families. Mr. Jordan is deeply remorseful for the profound sorrow he has caused. He regrets that his lifelong battle with mental illness ultimately resulted in this trauma and loss for innocent hikers and their families.

“The prosecution’s expert in this case concluded that Mr. Jordan suffers from schizoaffective disorder, a severe psychiatric illness that features psychosis and mood disorder. This mental health expert, as well as an expert for the defense, concluded that due to his psychosis Mr. Jordan could not appreciate the nature and quality of his actions and therefore he met the legal standard for insanity.

“Today’s verdict will result in Mr. Jordan being committed to a psychiatric institution. By law, he will not be released until a court finds by clear and convincing evidence that his release would not create a substantial risk of injury to anyone else.

“In this case, the prosecution’s expert noted that Mr. Jordan’s psychiatric illness was consistently and appropriately treated, likely for the first time in his life, when Mr. Jordan was found to be incompetent to stand trial and sent to a medical facility for restoration of his competency. Mr. Jordan understands that continued treatment and medication will be required for the rest of his life. Most importantly, he would like the victims and the family of Mr. Sanchez to know that he thinks about the damage he caused every day and that he would do anything to change the past if he could.”

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