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Insanity defense in Appalachian Trail killing

RICHMOND – A man from Massachusetts charged with killing a hiker of the Appalachian Trail and attacking another with a hunting knife in Virginia plans to use an insanity defense at trial.

James Jordan, from West Yarmouth, Massachusetts, is set to stand trial in January in the 2019 killing of Ronald Sanchez Jr., of Oklahoma City, and the wounding of another female hiker.

A notice was filed by Jordan’s attorneys in federal court this week declaring their intent to use an insanity defense.

Jordan, 31, has a history of mental illness. He was declared incompetent to stand trial initially, but a judge found in June that he is competent and that the case can move forward.

Attorneys for Jordan did not go into the details of their planned defense when they released heavily redacted documents filed Monday. Forensic psychologists at the University of Virginia’s Institute of Law, Psychiatry, and Public Policy wrote in a July 2019 report that Jordan’s “psychotic symptoms” were severe enough to undermine his ability to participate in his legal proceedings.

A mental evaluation, should it be needed, was requested to take place at the regional jail in Abingdon, Virginia, where Jordan is currently being held. They asked that he not be transferred due to the risk of contracting the coronavirus in transit.

Jordan’s lawyers and a spokesman for the U.S. Attorney’s Office declined to comment on the plan to use an insanity defense.

Hikers had complained to authorities in southwestern Virginia and in Tennessee about Jordan threatening them in the weeks before the May 2019 killing.

Jordan threatened four hikers on the weekend of the killing, catching Sanchez and assaulting the female hiker until she played dead and he left to find his dog.

Jordan was later arrested.

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