COURTS & LEGAL

Judge rules man accused of trying to open jet’s door, attacking crew, not competent for trial

Jul 13, 2023, 11:40 AM

FILE - This booking photo provided by Massachusetts State Police on March 7, 2023, shows Francisco ...

FILE - This booking photo provided by Massachusetts State Police on March 7, 2023, shows Francisco Severo Torres. Torres, who is charged with attacking a flight attendant with a broken metal spoon and attempting to open an airliner’s emergency door on a cross-country flight in March, does not understand the nature and consequences of the case against him, a mental health evaluation concluded on Wednesday, July 13. (Massachusetts State Police via AP, File)

(Massachusetts State Police via AP, File)

BOSTON (AP) — A man charged with attacking a flight attendant with a broken metal spoon and attempting to open an airliner’s emergency door on a cross-country flight in March is not currently competent to stand trial, a federal judge ruled.

Magistrate Judge Judith Dein, basing her decision on a mental health evaluation of Francisco Severo Torres and her own observations in court, determined Wednesday that further treatment is warranted, according to court records.

“The Court hereby finds … that the defendant is presently suffering from a mental disease or defect rendering him mentally incompetent to the extent that he is unable to understand the nature and consequences of the proceedings against him or to assist properly in his defense,” Dein wrote in her decision.

She also wrote that she denied a request by Torres to be freed so he could “further investigate the conspiracy which eventually led to his actions on the plane.”

Torres, of Leominster, Massachusetts, is charged with a felony related to using a dangerous weapon to interfere with flight crew members in the incident on United Airlines Flight 2609 from Los Angeles to Boston on March 5.

The evaluation was conducted at the Federal Medical Center in Devens, Massachusetts, where he was sent after an initial court appearance days after the attack. He has not entered a plea.

Torres’ attorney said in court Wednesday that he has no evidence in opposition to the evaluation’s findings, but told Dein that his client objects to the finding and asserts he is competent to stand trial, according to court records. The defense attorney requested that his client remain at FMC Devens.

Federal public defender Joshua Hanye declined comment on Wednesday’s proceedings when reached by email Thursday.

U.S. Bureau of Prisons records indicate that Torres remains at FMC Devens.

According to prosecutor and witness accounts, Torres went on a midair rant and tried to stab the crewmember with a modified metal spoon.

The plane was about 45 minutes from Boston when the crew received an alarm that a side door on the aircraft was disarmed, according to court documents. One flight attendant noticed the door’s locking handle had been moved. Another saw Torres near the door and believed he had moved the handle. Cabin pressure during flight prevents airplane doors from opening.

Torres started loudly rambling that his father was Dracula, that he wanted to be shot so he could be reincarnated and that he would kill everyone on board, another passenger said.

He punched a male flight attendant, who felt the metal spoon in Torres’ hand hit him on his shirt collar and tie three times, according to court documents. No one was injured.

Torres was eventually subdued and restrained by other passengers.

If convicted, he could be sentenced to life in prison.

Torres has spent time in mental health facilities, according to court records. The police chief in his hometown said officers have dealt with him several times since 2014, mostly over family issues and mental health episodes.

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Judge rules man accused of trying to open jet’s door, attacking crew, not competent for trial