A federal magistrate Thursday refused to order a mental examination for a jailed Las Vegas teenager accused of making chilling comments that promoted acts of violence.
Steven Matthew Fernandes, 18, is alleged to have made the comments to a confidential FBI source in the weeks before his September arrest and indictment on firearms and explosives charges.
Federal prosecutors sought the psychological evaluation to determine whether Fernandes was insane at the time of the remarks and whether he is competent to stand trial.
“There’s just something not right with Mr. Fernandes,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Patrick Walsh said in court Thursday.
But after an hourlong hearing, U.S. Magistrate Judge Peggy Leen said she agreed the statements were disturbing, but prosecutors had not provided her with a legal basis to order an examination.
Leen said it was clear Fernandes understands the court proceedings against him.
Defense attorney Crystal Eller, who represents Fernandes, told Leen that Fernandes has been able to assist her with the case and that she was not preparing an insanity defense.
Walsh had described Fernandes’ statements as “bizarre” and “extremely troubling.”
FBI Agent Robert French testified that as time passed during the FBI’s nine-month investigation of Fernandes, the teen’s “rhetoric became more alarming.”
Agents were provided an email from Fernandes in which he described himself as the commanding officer of the 327th Nevada Militia, an urban survivalist unit, French said.
Fernandes told the confidential FBI source that he “could take out the Strip” if he wanted, French testified.
He also said his high school classmates considered him “most likely to show up to school and just start killing people.”
And according to French, the teenager bragged about wanting “to go to a nursery school and use kids for target practice” and kill more people than the shooter who fatally wounded 12 moviegoers in Aurora, Colo., in July.
French said Fernandes told the source that the Columbine and Virginia Tech shootings were the “greatest events” ever.
Thursday’s hearing came as the nation continued to mourn the deaths of 20 children and six women in last week’s Newtown, Conn., shooting.
Eller acknowledged that some of the allegations leveled against Fernandes are “scary” and that the timing of the hearing was not good for her client.
But she described his statements as “sarcastic ranting” and “puffery” made in the presence of someone he felt comfortable being around.
She said she believes her client is mentally competent.
FBI agents and detectives assigned to the Southern Nevada Joint Terrorism Task Force arrested Fernandes on Sept. 13 with a loaded shotgun in his Saturn coupe. He was taken into custody as he was going to work at a local RadioShack.
Agents later found explosives and bomb-making materials and devices in his bedroom, with a copy of “The Anarchist’s Cookbook,” prosecutors have alleged.
The book explains how to manufacture explosives.
Agents also found five rifles, four handguns and thousands of rounds of ammunition in his Las Vegas home. Fernandes was living with his mother and two younger sisters.
In court Thursday, French testified that Fernandes’ mother padlocked his bedroom when he wasn’t there so his sisters couldn’t enter the room.
His mother confided in the FBI source that she was worried Fernandes might try to kill himself, French said.
Contact Jeff German at email@example.com or 702-380-8135.