FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. -- After defense assertions that terrorism suspect Jose Padilla is suffering from severe mental health problems, a federal judge in Miami agreed yesterday to order a psychiatric evaluation of the accused al-Qaida agent.
The examination will be conducted in coming weeks by the Bureau of Prisons and marks the first step for U.S. District Judge Marcia Cooke in deciding whether Padilla, 36, is legally competent to stand trial, said two people involved in the case.
Under federal law, criminal suspects must understand the nature and consequences of the case against them and be able to assist in their defense to proceed to trial.
Two mental health experts concluded that the former Broward County resident suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder caused by his treatment and interrogations during 3 1/2 years in military custody, according to reports filed last week by Padilla's attorneys. Prosecutors dispute that Padilla was mistreated during his detention in a U.S. Navy brig in South Carolina. They asked Cooke to order a neutral psychiatric evaluation last week to determine whether there are questions regarding his competency to stand trial.
Padilla and two co-defendants are charged with being members of a cell that sent money, supplies and recruits to violent Islamic groups overseas. The case is high profile because Padilla was accused of taking part in a plot to explode a radioactive, or "dirty," bomb on U.S. soil.
The trial was scheduled to start next month but will probably be delayed.