AT Killer James Jordan Not Guilty By Reason of Insanity

James Jordan, the Massachusetts man who killed an Appalachian Trail thru-hiker and seriously wounded another in a May 2019 attack, has been ruled not guilty in connection with that case by reason of insanity. The judge accepted Jordan’s plea in Abingdon, VA, not far from the AT trail town of Damascus, following a hearing last Thursday. He will remain in federal custody indefinitely to receive psychiatric treatment.

According to court documents, Judge James Jones ordered that Jordan should remain in federal custody “until he has recovered from his mental disease or defect to the extent that his release, or his conditional release, would no longer create a substantial risk of bodily injury to another or serious damage to property.”

May 2019 Attack

Jordan went by the name “Sovereign” on the Appalachian Trail in 2019. He was known among thru-hikers for erratic and sometimes aggressive behavior and had been reported in April 2019 by AT hikers in Unicoi County, TN for causing disturbances on the trail.

Despite being found guilty of several offenses and ordered to stay away from the Appalachian Trail corridor, he resurfaced on the trail in Wythe County, VA in May of 2019. He harassed a group of four thru-hikers at their campsite in the early morning hours of May 11th, threatening to burn them alive in their tents.

Two of the hikers fled the scene and Jordan briefly gave chase before returning to the campsite, where he engaged in a verbal confrontation with the remaining two. Jordan then fatally stabbed thru-hiker Ronald Sanchez, Jr., a 43-year-old Iraq War veteran and father of two.

“He (Sanchez) had so much life to live,” wrote Sanchez’s sister, Jayme Miller, in an impact statement sent to Judge Jones prior to Thursday’s hearing. “He won’t get to see his kids graduate this year.”

The other hiker, Kirby Morrill, attempted to flee the scene but was pursued and stabbed multiple times by Jordan. Morrill survived the incident by playing dead and hiked six miles to Smythe County to call 911.

“I am haunted by Mr. Jordan’s actions in May 2019,” Morrill wrote in her own impact statement. “I remember his eyes when I tried to run, and when I looked back over my shoulder. They are burned into my mind… And I hear Ron’s voice. I hear him cry out. And I hear him again and again in my mind, asking me to wait for him.”

“Keep him from harming anyone else.”

Following his arrest, Jordan was initially declared unfit to stand trial on the basis of his mental health in July of 2019, but the decision was reversed in June 2020. The COVID-19 pandemic delayed his trial date, which was ultimately set for September of 2021. Jordan subsequently underwent a sanity evaluation at the University of Virginia.

He was determined to be suffering from acute psychotic symptoms and schizoaffective disorder, a mental disorder characterized by symptoms of schizophrenia (hallucinations, delusions, etc.) paired with symptoms of a mood disorder like mania and depression. This evaluation led the prosecution and defense to agree that a not guilty plea by reason of insanity would be the best course of action as he was “unable to appreciate the wrongfulness of his acts.”

His lawyers said in a statement that 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.”

Morrill, the surviving victim,  begged the judge to keep Jordan in custody for the public good in her statement. “If he is truly unable to recognize that he ended a good man’s life, if he truly must not be held responsible for his actions, then I beg you to please use what power you have to still keep that man under lock and key. Keep him from harming anyone else.”

Featured image: James Jordan (left) and Ronald Sanchez. Image via.

Affiliate Disclosure

This website contains affiliate links, which means The Trek may receive a percentage of any product or service you purchase using the links in the articles or advertisements. The buyer pays the same price as they would otherwise, and your purchase helps to support The Trek's ongoing goal to serve you quality backpacking advice and information. Thanks for your support!

To learn more, please visit the About This Site page.

Comments 12

  • Avatar
    Bill Tracy : Apr 27th

    It seems to me that the mental disorder he has claimed does not have an effective remedy / cure, so as long as he remains under the custody of the state for the remainder of his life that is okay I guess. Still no consolation to the family of the people he killed and attacked.

    Reply
  • Avatar
    JustBob : Apr 28th

    Just sad……….No winners here.

    Reply
  • Avatar
    james barta : Apr 30th

    always ‘mental illness’..universal cop out..pathetic

    Reply
    • Avatar
      Eric : Apr 30th

      Do you,James Barta ,actually believe he wanted to be the guy that knives people to death in the woods? Amazing.
      “Universal Cop-out” so that he can …..?
      Fear the actions of a delusional man with a knife, for sure.
      You James sound scary , mean , and more than a little, off his rocker.
      I would not be surprised if you walked trails strapped with a pistol.
      Would Not hike with you.

      Reply
  • Avatar
    Cajun Turtle : Apr 30th

    Sad, sad. In a couple of years he’ll be deemed competent and returned to society on medication which he’ll stop taking leading to another homicidal episode.

    Reply
    • Avatar
      Eric : Apr 30th

      Cajun, trails sound right for you.
      You have a very depressed mental outlook on this.
      Walk it out.
      ❤️

      Reply
    • Avatar
      Ed Booth : May 2nd

      Sadly, you are correct.
      One name: Randall Lee Smith. Virginia. AT. Dismal Creek. Two murders 1981. Same courtroom playout…released “not a threat” in 1996. Moves back into mom’s same house and attempts the same shooting two hiker/fishermen 2 miles from the same 1981 site. Oh yeah, and with the SAME GUN…
      You can’t get any more specific than this comparison.
      For those of us who hike the NC/TN/VA corridors for most of our lives, you are living in a false sense of security if all you have is a multitool and nalgene bottle for defense against two and four legged predators. Your own personal choice, but you’re not accepting reality no matter how slight the risks. I feel sick thinking of Sanchez’s last moments flashing through his head of always being Army battle trained and you end up facing your death empty handed.

      Reply
  • Avatar
    Eric : Apr 30th

    Trails are one of the last resorts for those with social disorders.
    Depression , PTS , eating disorders, lack of self worth, bipolar..and many other conditions…anxiety, mania, sadness…
    Here’s the deal , all ya all, I don’t fear grizzlies.
    I don’t fear snakes.
    I don’t fear spiders, centipedes, scorpions.
    I don’t fear solitude or the dark.
    That’s because I know something about them.
    Crazy on the trail is something that exists
    ‘ya all need to be aware of this reality
    But just like the bear, just stay aware.
    If something God awful happens it’s God awful.
    But to chase this story back to civilization and have the opinion that he was getting away with something…feigning an insanity that left him wandering alone in the trees
    waiting to kill
    Lovely.
    Right, so some guys just decided in his mind ,
    “ hmmmm , oh I know, I’ll go kill some trail walkers.”
    Delusional thinking
    Hallucinations
    Insanity does exist
    In reality.
    So, instead of taking him out to the woods and showing him how it feels to be chased and knifed to death…
    We try to study the insane, like we study bears, to understand their potential danger.
    In the hospital ( mental ) they will totally dissect his brain.
    While he’s alive
    And after he dies
    We will know more about disease
    And be safer.
    I’d be happy to walk trails with anyone suffering if it helped.
    And I’m not afraid of the insane.
    I know too much.
    And if you killed this person we would corporately know less.
    So no more talk about him getting a lighter sentence .

    Reply
  • Avatar
    Rita Abbott : May 5th

    5 states, out west have abolished the not guilty by reason of insanity ,they have guilty but mentally ill, and they get tx,but also prison term, not a death sentence. If he had committed murder there, he would be in prison. The 45 states who have the Not Guilty By reason of Insanity,including VA. , need to be changed. So, maybe, we the people of this beautiful county,where Stronghold died and the beautiful young girl bears the scars from Jordan’s crime, should take a stand to get the laws changed. I am for guilty, but insane and punishment stands.

    Reply
  • Avatar
    Kevin Ryan : May 6th

    sleep tight. the democrats are in charge

    Reply
  • Avatar
    John Stephens : May 15th

    How about Guilty and Mentally ill?

    Reply

What Do You Think?