A federal judge in southwest Virginia has found that a man accused of fatally stabbing Iraq war veteran Ronnie Sanchez Jr. on the Appalachian Trail in May is incompetent to stand trial “at this time.”

James L. Jordan Courtesy of Washington County, Virginia, Sheriff’s Office via Associated Press

The judge ordered James L. Jordan back into a mental health facility for further treatment, and she requested another report within four months on whether Jordan might be restored to competency at some point.

Sanchez, 43, was a southern California native who spent 16 years in the Army, served three tours in Iraq as an engineer, and had publicly admitted he suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder in the years after his 2011 discharge. But while living in Oklahoma he discovered bicycling and other vigorous exercise helped extricate him from depression, his family said, and he had determined to walk the length of the Appalachian Trail beginning in February.

Sanchez, who used the trail name “Stronghold,” had taken a break from the trail in North Carolina in the spring, with his ailing joints acting up on him, he told a hostel owner there. But he had returned to the trail by May, and together with an unidentified woman and a couple had set up camp on the trail in Wythe County, Virginia, on the night of May 10, in the George Washington and Jefferson National Forest.

An FBI affidavit said that earlier that day, Jordan, 30, had approached the foursome in another part of the trail in Virginia, strumming a guitar and singing. The trail is federal property, so the FBI and federal courts are involved.

The group told the FBI they were aware of Jordan from social media as a result of an earlier incident where he had accosted hikers, and when he approached their campsite and threatened to burn their tents, the group decided to break camp and head out.

As they were doing so, sometime after midnight on May 11, Jordan returned and allegedly stabbed Sanchez in the chest, while the other three fled. Jordan was captured hours later at the scene, having also stabbed the woman who was with Sanchez, the FBI said. She survived.

Two days later, U.S. Magistrate Judge Pamela Meade Sargent ordered a psychiatric evaluation for Jordan. The resulting report was sealed to the public, and at a hearing on July 3, neither side presented any other evidence of Jordan’s mental state.

Jordan had previously threatened other hikers, burned a visitors’ log book and brandished a knife on the trail, and had been arrested in April for possessing marijuana, Tennessee authorities said. One hiker nicknamed Jordan the “fight angel.”

Based on the psychiatric report, Sargent found Jordan, of West Yarmouth, Massachusetts, “mentally incompetent for the charges against him to proceed at this time,” according to an order she entered July 8.

She ordered him returned to a federal mental health facility for treatment and “to determine whether there is a substantial probability that in the foreseeable future the defendant will attain the capacity to permit the charges against him to proceed.”

 


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