Competency Exam Ordered in Threat Against Abortion Provider


A mental competency hearing was ordered Monday in the FACE Act prosecution of a Spokane, Wash., man accused of threatening to kill a Colorado physician.

The abrupt ruling by U.S. District Judge Marcia Krieger stunned courtroom observers after defendant Donald Hertz again complained about details of his alleged crime in the indictment.

“There are a lot of things in this plea agreement that are exaggerations and misconceptions,” told Hertz the judge.

Hertz, 71, is charged with two federal felony counts of violating the Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances (FACE) act and making an interstate threat. The indictment accuses Hertz of calling the Boulder Abortion Clinic and telling a receptionist that a team of former soldiers was en route to Colorado to kill a member of Dr. Warren Hern’s family. The call was placed on June 23, just weeks after the murder of Wichita physician George Tiller, a colleague of Hern’s.

It was nearly an identical reprisal of the short-circuited Feb. 16 hearing when the retired real estate broker griped about the characterization of the phone call by federal prosecutors.

Krieger put the brakes on the Monday morning hearing after Hertz proceeded to tell a rambling story about a visit to a crowded neighborhood Starbuck’s coffee shop when asked if he understood the plea. After a brief recess to allow defense attorney Dustin Deissner to talk with his client, the judge ordered Hertz to undergo a psychiatric assessment within 30 days.

U.S. Attorneys Benjamin Hawk and Stephen Curran declined to comment on the case.

Deissner expressed shock that Hertz was again rejecting the signed plea agreement at the 11th hour.

“He is accepting responsibility for this,” said Deissner of his client’s alleged death threat. But it turned out to a bigger deal than he expected.” He said he was unsure of how the defense would proceed if Hertz is found not competent.

Through much of the hearing a frail-looking Hertz, casually dressed in a blue nylon track suit and tennis shoes, stared into space and rarely spoke to his attorney. Though he complained frequently about not being able to hear the proceedings. A court clerk twice provided him with amplification devices.

Leading up to the expected acceptance of his guilty plea, Hertz told the judge he had suffered a brain tumor several years ago and was being treated for a heart condition. Krieger expressed concern for the defendant’s cognitive capacity when he would equivocate in his answers to standard mental fitness questions and could not recall a lengthy list of medications he is taking.

Adding to the strange turn of events, the court bailiff reprimanded Hertz’ wife twice during the hour-long hearing for approaching the defense table and noisily rummaging through her purse.

The Spokane lawyers representing Hertz claim that he is not affiliated with anti-abortion protest groups. They assert that he was spurred to make the death threat after becoming enraged after reading news reports quoting Hern about Tiller’s murder.

Deissner was unsure if the Jan. conviction of Scott Roeder who was sentenced Apr. 1 to life imprisonment for Tiller’s death was a factor in Hertz’ decisions to reject the two plea agreements.

A FACE Act conviction carries up to six years in federal prison and a $350,000 fine.

Hertz, who is not in custody, is not expected to do jail time.

The case is likely to resume in June.

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  • cat

    It’s a pretty contradictory position to take that you are both a martyr for your cause and legally incompetant (a high standard wherein you literally do not understand the action or its consequences, not merely having a mental illness).  “They assert that he was spurred to make the death threat after becoming enraged after reading news reports quoting Hern about Tiller’s murder.” That does not sound like legal insanity to me at all.  He is enraged at this individual based on political positions and threatens his life.  However, the psyciatrist that will evaluate him is more of an expert here than me, so let him or her decide this guy’s competance.

  • crowepps

    Hertz, who is not in custody

    The part that got me was that this loon, sure that he’s entitled to kill people for God, is still running around loose.  If you drop into Starbuck’s, you might want to keep an eye out!

  • mechashiva

    Ha, no kidding. Esspecially since Starbucks is doing that whole open-carry thing, too. All the more reason to get your own espresso machine.

  • mlionello

    Funny, I don’t see anywhere in the article that says he was religious. Why do you assume religon has any play? Furthurmore it didn’t say Mr. Hertz was going to kill the doc, it just said some men where on there way there to kill – not him. It’s pretty obvious the guy was just making a prank call that went too far.

  • mlionello

    Funny, I don’t see anywhere in the article that says he was religious. Why do you assume religon has any play? Furthurmore it didn’t say Mr. Hertz was going to kill the doc, it just said some men where on there way there to kill – not him. It’s pretty obvious the guy was just making a prank call that went too far.

  • crowepps

    Donald Hertz called in a death threat to the Boulder Abortion Clinic at 1130 Alpine Ave. on June 23, according to the indictment. The grand jury also alleges that Hertz, 70, tried to intimidate employees who work at the clinic.

    If you seriously think this can be excused as JUST a ‘prank call’ you need to brush up on what is meant by “terroristic threatening”.
  • happyclam

    I know Don Hertz and I can tell you he is not crazy – he is a very selfish, self absorbed, greedy old man!! He is a crook and I hope the good doctor will see through his skills of spacing off and his deliberate ramblings to make you feel sorry for him. Feel free to look up all the previous court cases against him for breach of contract’s, money owed, etc. HE’S NOT CRAZY ~ HE’S A CROOK!!!!

  • wendy-norris

    You’re right on this score. Hertz’ colorful legal history, including charges that he threatened to harm an attorney representing him in an earlier case, was outlined in this previous report:

     

    Trial set for man accused of threatening doctor

     

    Hertz has already taken responsibility for the charges and it’s extremely unlikely that the still sealed plea agreement is demanding that he serve jail time. So it’s unclear why he continues to argue about the description of his actions in the indictment.

     

    But there’s a big difference between having enough lucidity to understand the indictment, just being squirrelly and malingering.

     

    We’ll know in 45 days when the psychiatrist’s report is expected by the court.

     

    Stay tuned!

     

  • crowepps

    A Washington State man was arrested Tuesday on charges that he repeatedly threatened to kill US Senator Patty Murray because of her support of the recently passed healthcare reform law.

    Prosecutors note that it is a federal crime to threaten a US government official. Such threats are punishable by 10 years in prison and a $250,000 fine.

     

    “Free speech is the cornerstone of our democratic process, and we are a country of vigorous debate,” said Assistant US Attorney Todd Greenberg. “However, threats of violence have no place in that debate. The threats here crossed the line, and violate the law.”

     

    http://news.yahoo.com/s/csm/20100407/ts_csm/292965

    While I certainly agree threatening to kill politicians and government officials should never be allowed, how about a similar law to protect the rest of us from the kooks?