WASHINGTON — An Idaho man who pleaded guilty to firing an assault rifle at the White House in 2011, striking the executive mansion more than half a dozen times, was sentenced Monday to 25 years in prison.
Prosecutors initially charged Oscar Ramiro Ortega-Hernandez with attempting to assassinate President Barack Obama but agreed to drop the charge as part of a plea deal last year. Ortega-Hernandez instead pleaded guilty to two charges including damaging the home.
The president and first lady Michelle Obama were not home at the time of the shooting, and no one was injured. But prosecutors said Ortega-Hernandez, 23, jeopardized the lives of numerous others. That included two other members of the Obama family who were at the home as well as White House employees and staff, Secret Service agents, tourists and bystanders.
Prosecutors said the bullets from Ortega-Hernandez’s gun caused nearly $100,000 worth of damage to the home. They asked that Ortega-Hernandez spend 27 ½ years in prison.
Ortega-Hernandez himself told the judge he was “deeply sorry” for putting people in danger when he drove by the White House on the night of Nov. 11, 2011 and shot at the home from his car. He said that he “never meant to hurt anybody.”
“I’m not a bad person. I made a huge mistake,” he said before pleading for a 10-year sentence.
Ortega-Hernandez’s lawyers argued that he was suffering from extreme depression and mental stress at the time of the shooting and was under the misguided belief that the end of the world was coming. Ortega-Hernandez’s lawyers said his motivation in firing a gun at the White House was to “call attention to what he believed was the coming apocalypse.”
They said in written filings with the court that he rejected shooting at locations in Idaho Falls, where he is from, as well as at the Grand Canyon and Statue of Liberty, because he didn’t think they would attract enough attention.
One of Ortega-Hernandez’s lawyers, Robert Feitel, stressed Monday that his client never intended to assassinate the president. He noted that Ortega-Hernandez pleaded guilty instead to the charges of “injury to a dwelling and placing lives in jeopardy,” as well as “using, carrying and discharging a firearm during a crime of violence.”
But prosecutor George Varghese called Ortega-Hernandez a “lone wolf domestic terrorist” during Monday’s hearing, which lasted approximately two hours, and said he “placed countless lives in jeopardy.” Varghese described how Ortega-Hernandez practiced using his gun in Idaho. He also detailed statements from friends and acquaintances who said Ortega-Hernandez referred to himself as “the modern day Jesus,” railed against the government and said he wanted to kill Obama, calling him “the anti-Christ.” Ortega-Hernandez shook his head frequently as Varghese spoke.
Varghese also described in some detail where Ortega-Hernandez’s shots had landed, including the roof and the windows of the White House’s Treaty Room and Yellow Oval Room. Varghese’s colleague, Alessio Evangelista, showed the judge a pane of glass with a bullet hole that was removed from the home.
A manhunt for Ortega-Hernandez after the shooting lasted five days before he was captured in Pennsylvania.
Judge Rosemary M. Collyer told Ortega-Hernandez that his actions amounted to “very serious criminal conduct” regardless of whether he intended to assassinate the president.
“You cannot come and shoot at the White House and just walk away with it,” she said before sentencing him.
“You don’t like the president? Vote him out of office,” she said.
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