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Man Charged with Clinton Assassination Attempt

By Toni Locy
The Washington Post
WASHINGTON

Francisco Martin Duran, the Colorado man who allegedly opened fire on the White House last month, was charged Thursday with attempting to assassinate President Clinton after several friends and co-workers told investigators that he had said he wanted to kill the president.

Even though those people have now come forward with the information, U.S. Attorney Eric H. Holder Jr. had harsh words for them Thursday during a news conference announcing Duran's indictment by a federal grand jury.

Calling their failure to report the threats before Duran came to Washington "very disturbing" and "unacceptable," Holder said, "When any American citizen has solid information that a person" intends to harm the president or any other public official, that citizen has "a civic and moral duty to come forward with that information before that tragedy occurs."

He said the incident could have had a disastrous outcome if it were not for the heroism of two tourists who tackled Duran as he allegedly attempted to reload a Chinese-made 7.62mm semiautomatic rifle. "We are truly in their debt," Holder said.

Duran, through his lawyer, assistant public defender Leigh Kenny, pleaded not guilty to the 11-count indictment.

Prosecutors Thursday filed a motion requesting that defense attorneys divulge whether they intend to use an insanity defense to the charges. Kenny has until Monday to respond. She could refuse and fight the request, which the prosecutors made because they want to know as soon as possible for strategic reasons whether Duran will claim he was insane at the time of the Oct. 29 shooting.

The addition of the attempted-assassination charge came after days of debate in the Justice Department and Holder's office over whether the evidence was strong enough to charge Duran with that offense. Conviction carries a maximum penalty of life in prison.

Duran, 26, a hotel upholsterer from Colorado Springs, allegedly fired at least 29 rounds at the White House, striking the building many times. Clinton, who had just returned from a trip to the Middle East, was not in sight but in the family quarters of the mansion watching a football game on television. No one was injured, although Pennsylvania Avenue was packed with tourists at the time.

To support the attempted-assassination charge, the prosecution is relying on the statements made to the FBI by several friends and co-workers of Duran who say he told them before he came to Washington that he intended to kill Clinton.

The evidence against Duran also includes numerous items seized from his truck, found parked near the White House after the shooting. In it, authorities found several hundred more rounds of ammunition, another weapon, poison-gas antidotes and numerous documents and letters allegedly written by Duran.

And investigators have a dramatic videotape of the shooting, made by a tourist, that shows Duran firing the rifle he had under his trench coat and attempting to reload as he was being tackled and subdued.

But another lawyer for Duran, chief public defender A.J. Kramer, revealed Thursday for the first time that one of the letters found in the truck makes no mention of Clinton by name or of any intention to harm him in any way. Lawyers for The Washington Post, The New York Times, and NBC argued Thursday for the public release of that letter.

Legally, prosecutors must prove two elements to win a conviction on an attempted-assassination charge. First, they must show that the defendant "specifically intended to kill" the president. That element can be proven with the statements of his co-workers and friends about his intentions, as well as any of his alleged writings.

Secondly, prosecutors must show he took "a substantial step" to carry out that intention. That could include buying a gun and firing it at the White House where he knew the president was, and driving to Washington with a truck loaded with supplies to carry out a specific plan.

Duran also is charged with four counts of assaulting a federal officer - the four Secret Service agents who tried to approach him across the White House lawn as he fired.

Because Duran served prison time when he was in the Army for aggravated assault with a vehicle, he is charged with two counts of illegal possession of a firearm by a convicted felon. The remaining charges are use of an assault weapon during a crime of violence, destruction of U.S. property and interstate transportation of a firearm with intent to commit a felony.