Stolen plane suspect to have mental evaluation

Saturday, April 11, 2009
Adam Dylan Leon, the suspect who allegedly stole an aircraft from Canada Monday, is seen in a booking photo released by the Butler County, Missouri Sheriff's Department Tuesday, April 7, 2009. (AP Photo/Daily American Republic, Butler County Sheriff)

ST. LOUIS -- A federal judge on Friday ordered a psychiatric evaluation for the man accused of stealing a plane in Canada and flying over several states before landing along a southern Missouri highway.

U.S. Magistrate Judge Thomas Mummert ordered the evaluation of Adam Dylan Leon, 31, during a brief court hearing in St. Louis.

A preliminary hearing and a detention hearing were also scheduled for Friday, but both were put on hold pending the results of the psychiatric evaluation, which will be performed by the Bureau of Prisons. The evaluation site has not been determined.

Leon faces two federal charges after allegedly stealing a single-engine Cessna 172 on Monday from the Ontario flight school he attended. The unauthorized flight into U.S. air space forced two F-16s into action, tailing the stolen plane until it landed near Ellsinore more than seven hours after being stolen. The state Capitol in Madison, Wis., was evacuated for a time because authorities were not sure if the pilot was a terrorist or had some other hostile motive.

The FBI and Missouri State Highway Patrol have said Leon told them he was trying to commit suicide, hoping U.S. fighter jets would shoot him down.

Leon appeared at Friday's hearing. Slender and with a several days' growth of beard, he mostly kept his head down. He was sworn in and asked by the judge if he understood what had transpired during the hearing. Leon answered, "More or less."

Lucy Liggett, the federal public defender representing Leon, asked Mummert to allow a private psychologist from the St. Louis area to perform the psychiatric evaluation. Liggett told the judge the Bureau of Prisons is so backed up that the evaluation could be performed more quickly locally.

But Assistant U.S. Attorney D. John Sauer said the government would possibly challenge an evaluation done by a private psychologist, slowing the process even more. The judge agreed.

It was not clear when the evaluation would take place. Neither Liggett nor Sauer would comment after the hearing.

Sauer also confirmed to the judge that prosecutors will seek a grand jury indictment against Leon. Court documents indicate the government will present its case to a grand jury on Wednesday. The government has also said it wants Leon detained until his trial is complete, saying he is a possible risk to the community and a risk to flee.

Leon is being held at a St. Louis jail. Officials there said requests to interview Leon would have to be approved by Liggett, and she denied an Associated Press request for an interview.

A spokesman for the North American Aerospace Defense Command said shooting down the plane was never seriously considered. The F-16 pilots used hand gestures and flares to try and persuade the pilot to land.

Authorities said the plane was nearly out of fuel when it landed on a former stretch of U.S. 60 that is now just a loop off the main highway. The Highway Patrol said Leon got a ride from a passer-by to a store, where he bought a Gatorade and sat at a booth until authorities arrived.

Leon was born Yavuz Berke in Turkey before moving to Canada, changing his name, and becoming a naturalized citizen. He was described as a good student and well-liked at the Confederation College Flight School in Thunder Bay, Ontario, where the plane was stolen.

Leon could face up to 10 years in prison if convicted and would serve any sentence in the U.S. before being deported, federal prosecutor Catherine Hanaway has said.

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