A federal judge Thursday ordered a psychological exam for the Texas woman accused of sending ricin-laced letters to President Barack Obama and New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg in an attempt to frame her estranged husband.
Shannon Richardson's court-appointed attorney, Tonda Curry, requested the exam, saying Richardson, 35, had displayed "a pattern of behavior" that raised the question about whether she could assist in her defense. Curry's wrote in a motion that her belief was based on a series of conversations with Richardson, who has been jailed since her June 7 arrest on a charge of sending a threatening communication to the president.
U.S. Magistrate Judge Caroline Craven's ruling means Richardson, who is six months pregnant, will be evaluated at a medical facility within the federal Bureau of Prisons, possibly within the next 30 days, to determine whether she can assist in her defense.
"She has never been inside a jail before, and that's a very, very harrowing experience, especially when you're older and pregnant," Curry said, elaborating on Richardson's mental state after a brief hearing Thursday. "She is suffering a lot of anxiety and panic attacks."
Curry filed the motion requesting the exam Thursday morning, just hours before a scheduled detention hearing. The detention issue was postponed until after Richardson's mental competency is determined.
Richardson, wearing an orange jump suit and with her hands shackled, did not speak during Thursday's hearing.
Richardson, an actress, has had minor roles on television and films under the name Shannon Guess. The government alleges she sent the ricin letters to the White House, Bloomberg and the mayor's gun-control group last month in an attempt to pin the crime on Nathan Richardson, the New Boston, Texas, man she married in October 2011.
Nathan Richardson filed for divorce on the day before his wife's arrest. He later told the Texarkana Gazette that he contemplated divorce last year but reconsidered when the relationship seemed to improve.
The marriage was at least Shannon Richardson's third, and she has five children ranging in age from 4 to 19 from other relationships, according to Nathan Richardson's attorney, John Delk.
Authorities have determined that the ricin letters, which threatened violence against gun-control advocates, were mailed from New Boston, about 150 miles northeast of Dallas, or nearby Texarkana and postmarked in Shreveport, La.
According to an FBI affidavit, Shannon Richardson first contacted authorities to implicate her husband in the scheme. But she failed a polygraph exam, and investigators found numerous inconsistencies in her story, the document alleges.
Richardson later admitted mailing the letters but maintained that her husband made her do it, according to the affidavit.
Speaking to reporters Thursday, Curry noted that her client has not been charged with sending a poisonous substance. If the government does file that charge against her, it will be strongly denied, Curry said.
"We are going to mount a vigorous defense on the ricin," Curry said.
The lead attorney for the government, Assistant U.S. Attorney Ryan Locker, declined comment, saying he doesn't discuss ongoing cases.