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.
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