A suburban Cincinnati man, the beard and long hair he had when arrested gone, has been calling himself again by his birth name and appears competent to stand trial on charges that he plotted to attack the U.S. Capitol in support of the Islamic State group, according to testimony Monday.
U.S. District Judge Sandra Beckwith scheduled trial for Nov. 1 after a hearing on Christopher Lee Cornell’s ability to participate in his defense. Defense psychologist Scot Bresler, of the University of Cincinnati, strongly advised that Cornell, 22, be re-evaluated because his competency is “marginal” and could change before trial.
Cornell had used the name Raheel Mahrus Ubaydah and followed some Islamic religious practices while, the FBI said, expressing support for violent jihadists. Bresler said he thought Cornell “self-radicalized” and adopted the identity to make him “feel he was somebody.”
Cornell has been held without bond since his January 2015 arrest near Cincinnati by the FBI. He has pleaded not guilty to four charges, including attempted murder of U.S. officials and employees. His father has said he was misled and coerced by “a snitch.”
Bresler, who has repeatedly examined Cornell since his arrest, said Sunday was the first time he asked him to call him “Chris,” instead of “Raheel” when he met with him at Boone County Jail in northern Kentucky where he was brought recently from a federal facility. Cornell, sitting at the defense table in jail clothes with wrists and ankles shackled, appeared less gaunt than in earlier appearances and nodded and smiled at times, such as when he spotted his family.
His attorneys could still pursue a defense of not guilty by reason of insanity, although Bresler said Cornell has said he would oppose that defense. Bresler said Cornell suffers from schizotypal disorder, which can cause marked social anxiety and odd thinking, and has long had problems with depression.
He said Cornell at times has been overwhelmed by depressed, “dark” feelings, and has repeatedly expressed suicidal thoughts including just days ago. He said he has found him “crying incessantly” and unable to process information well.
He said the youth, living a lower-middle-class existence in his parents’ apartment, was socially withdrawn and spent hours alone on his computer.
“He created this identity to make him feel as if his life made a difference … to make him feel he was somebody,” Bresler said.
Timothy Mangan, a federal prosecutor, didn’t call any witnesses after questioning Bresler. Mental evaluations done for both sides remained sealed. Mangan also filed exhibits including letters written by Cornell while incarcerated, some to a woman he had met at a jail. Mangan said Cornell has said he thinks he has identified the government’s confidential source and has been following other cases involving terrorism charges, signs he can participate in his own defense.
The acting U.S. attorney for southern Ohio, Benjamin C. Glassman, said afterward in a statement that he’s “pleased to see the case moving forward” and that the government will be ready for trial.
Beckwith last year appointed Martin Pinales and Candace Crouse to represent Cornell after a federal public defender asked to withdraw from the case. The same lawyers represented Michael Hoyt, a former Cincinnati area country club bartender who was ruled not guilty by reason of insanity on a charge he threatened to kill then-Speaker of the House John Boehner.
They subsequently filed a motion last November saying there was “reasonable cause to believe that Mr. Cornell may presently be suffering from a mental disease or defect rendering him mentally incompetent.”
The FBI said agents arrested Cornell in a gun shop parking lot near his home west of Cincinnati. They said he had just bought two M-15 assault weapons and ammunition and planned to attack the Capitol with pipe bombs and guns.
Cornell’s arrest came amid increased concern over Islamic State militant efforts to recruit homegrown “lone wolf” terrorists. The FBI has said Cornell, of suburban Green Township, wanted to “wage jihad” and sent messages on social media and posted video in support of Islamic State militants and violent attacks by others.
Cornell told WXIX-TV of Cincinnati after his arrest that he wanted to shoot President Barack Obama in the head.