What Sentence Could the Accused White House Shooter Face?

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White House shooting suspect Oscar Ortega-Hernandez

An Idaho man who was arrested for firing a bullet at the White House may spend the rest of his life in prison if he is convicted of the federal charge of attempting to assassinate President Obama.

Oscar Ortega-Hernandez appeared in front of a federal judge the day after he was taken into custody at a Pennsylvania hotel and heard the charges against him. He was ordered to be held without bail. Authorities will move him to federal court in Washington to face the charges, and so that a judge can determine if he should remain in custody. The maximum penalty for an attempt on the life of a federal official is life in prison without parole and a $250,000 fine.

Hernandez is accused of firing rounds at the south side of the White House from a car on Constitution Avenue. Gunfire was reported at the site on Friday and FBI investigators discovered the damage Tuesday.

(MORE: Details Unfold in Shots Fired at White House)

Currently, authorities are figuring out if Hernandez was acting out of malice for Obama when he allegedly fired two bullets at the White House, striking the window of the President’s living quarters. The bullets did not penetrate the ballistic glass window, but they did crack it. President Obama was not at the White House at the time of the shooting. U.S. Park Police found an abandoned car with an assault rifle inside, and eventually traced the car to Hernandez.

Officials are looking at Hernandez’s background and mental health. He was reported missing on Oct. 31 by his family and has an arrest record in three states, but is not known to be tied to any radical groups. Authorities who interviewed witnesses who know Hernandez said that he had become frustrated with the U.S. government and one said hearing him say he wanted to “hurt” the president.

Charges against Hernandez allege that he believes Obama is the “anti-Christ” and that he felt that he “needed to kill him.” A mental assessment of Hernandez was not yet complete, but at least one legal expert believes an insanity defense may be hard to utilize in this case.

“Anyone who does something like this is crazy,” said Michael Helfand, a Chicago attorney who runs the legal site findgreatlawyers.com. “But that doesn’t mean you’re insane.” He explained there is a difference among the accused between people with a history of mental illness and someone who suddenly claims insanity.  “I would be surprised if the insanity defense sticks.”

But Hernandez’s defense may have an uphill battle in court no matter what, Helfand says, because it will be easy to prove intent. “He traveled across the country to do this,” he said. “That shows planning and that shows intent. The more they find these people in Idaho who know him who heard him saying Obama was the anti-Christ, that shows intent. So I fully expect them to go after him and go for whatever maximum penalty there is.”

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