Judge approves unusual prosecution request for competency exam for man who sought radioactive poison
A federal magistrate judge on Tuesday ordered a competency examination for a noted Madison protester and former congressional candidate who prosecutors said tried to buy radioactive material over the Internet to poison someone.
What was unusual, though, was that prosecutors sought the competency exam for Jeremy J. Ryan, 30, and not Ryan’s lawyer, federal defender Joseph Bugni, who opposed the request. Normally a criminal defendant’s own lawyer asks for an examination after suspecting that the defendant is incapable of understanding the proceedings and assisting with a defense.
Instead, Assistant U.S. Attorney Jeffrey Anderson requested the exam in a motion that was filed under seal last month. At a hearing on Nov. 15, Assistant U.S. Attorney Elizabeth Altman said the exam was being sought to determine whether Ryan was lying or is delusional about having cancer.
Bugni said at a hearing in October that Ryan was seeking to buy the radioactive material to kill himself, not someone else, because he has cancer.
Ryan, known to many as a Segway-riding state Capitol protester and for his run for Congress in 2014 as a Republican, was arrested in October after picking up a package from a UPS store that was supposed to be a dose of lethal radioactive material purchased from a site on the Internet’s “dark web.” Instead, the package contained something harmless placed there by federal investigators, who had been corresponding undercover with Ryan since March, according to court documents.
In the correspondence, documents state, Ryan said he wanted to make it look like a person died from either cancer or cancer treatment. Bugni argued in October that Ryan, who he said was being treated for cancer and intended to use the material on himself, at first wanted to make it appear as though the government had killed him. But when his cancer went into remission he still wanted the substance as a “backup” in case his cancer returned, Bugni said.
A grand jury issued a formal indictment last month charging Ryan with attempting to possess radioactive material with intent to cause death or serious bodily harm under the federal terrorism statute. Ryan has pleaded not guilty to the charge.
In court Tuesday, U.S. Magistrate Judge Stephen Crocker said he would order the competency examination, but that the exam would be done locally. Normally, in federal cases, defendants who are in custody and require competency examinations are sent to a U.S. Bureau of Prisons medical facility, such as the one in Butner, North Carolina. The process can take months.
Crocker said he found no basis for sending Ryan to a federal facility for an exam. Bugni said he is almost certain to appeal the examination order.
Crocker turned down Anderson’s request for a full medical examination of Ryan. Anderson said that after reviewing 2,200 pages of Ryan’s medical records he hasn’t found any indication that Ryan has cancer. If Ryan has medical problems, Anderson added, the Dane County Jail, where Ryan is being held, should be told what they are.
But Crocker said the government doesn’t have a right to force Ryan to undergo a physical examination. And if the jail has concerns about Ryan’s health, Crocker said, it can ask on its own for a physical exam.
In November 2016, Ryan told the Wisconsin State Journal he had been receiving radiation treatments on and off for the previous two years for a recurring case of metastatic brain cancer.