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Insanity defense planned in Appalachian Trail murder case

James Jordan is accused of killing one hiker, attacking another and threatening two more

Credit: WCYB
Credit: WCYB (WCYB)

RICHMOND, Va. – A Massachusetts man charged with killing an Appalachian Trail hiker and attacking another with a hunting knife in Wythe County, Virginia, plans to use an insanity defense at his trial.

James Jordan, of West Yarmouth, Massachusetts, is scheduled to go on trial in January in the 2019 killing of Ronald Sanchez Jr., 43, of Oklahoma City, and the wounding of a female hiker.

Jordan’s attorneys filed a notice in federal court this week saying they intend to use an insanity defense.

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

In heavily redacted documents filed in court Monday, Jordan’s lawyers do not go into detail about the insanity defense, but note that 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.

Jordan’s lawyers asked that if prosecutors want to conduct a mental evaluation of Jordan that they do it at the regional jail in Abingdon, Virginia, where he’s currently being held. They asked that he not be transferred to another facility for the evaluation, noting the ongoing coronavirus pandemic and possible exposure to the virus if he’s moved.

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

In the weeks before Sanchez was killed in May 2019, hikers on the trail had complained to authorities in southwestern Virginia and in Tennessee about Jordan threatening them.

Jordan, who used the trail nickname of “Sovereign,” was arrested in Tennessee in April 2019 after some hikers reported him, but he was released after pleading guilty to possession of marijuana and other minor charges.

On the weekend of the killing, Jordan threatened four hikers, an FBI agent wrote in an affidavit filed in court.

Two of the hikers were chased by Jordan as they tried to leave their campsite, but managed to escape, authorities said.

Sanchez and a female hiker also ran to get away from Jordan, but he caught Sanchez first and stabbed him until he collapsed, the FBI agent wrote. Jordan then stabbed the woman repeatedly, investigators said. She fell to the ground and played dead, and Jordan then left to find his dog, the agent wrote. Jordan was later arrested.