Man accused of attempted cockpit breach on Nashville-bound plane was having ‘acute mental break,’ lawyer says

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PHOTO: Rebecca Chin

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (WKRN) – The man taken into custody after allegedly trying to breach the cockpit of a Delta Airlines flight bound for Nashville will be released from federal detention.

Asiel Norton had his federal detention hearing Thursday and Judge Laura Fashing, the federal magistrate, ordered Norton to be released Friday, June 11, to Hoffman Hall Sober Living facility in Albuquerque, NM. Norton previously waived his right to a preliminary hearing, prompting Judge Fashing to automatically find probable cause in the case, which will soon be heard by a grand jury.

During the hearing Anjelica Hall, who is serving as Norton’s public defender, claimed Norton was having an “acute mental break” during the incident on board a Delta Airlines flight from LAX bound for Nashville International Airport.

Due to Norton’s mental issues, Hall asked the judge not to keep Norton detained, but rather send him to a halfway house or sober living facility for treatment.

“This case is not a case where there is intent to harm anybody…It was truly a moment of mental distress. Mr. Norton is doing better,” Hall said.

However, the U.S. Attorney’s Office argued against Hall, stating Norton should be kept in detention. During the hearing, the prosecution described a conversation Norton had after he was taken into custody.

Norton reportedly told law enforcement officers that he wanted the plane to land immediately because “he was afraid of being raped by the devil.” Norton also reportedly was concerned over the jail performing a sex change operation on him, should he be taken into custody.

Norton’s attorney disagreed, saying, “Frankly, I’m a little offended that the government felt the need to go into these kinds of details. I think it supports that Mr. Norton was in a moment of mental health distress. It was very clear and obvious from passenger videos in the news. I don’t think there’s any surprise that he’d be saying things out of the normal.”

“We have a guy who had such an acute mental health crisis that he tried to take down an airliner,” the prosecution argued. “We have no reason to be confident that he can avoid having such an involuntary health crisis in the future.”

The judge ultimately ordered Norton to be released, stating she did not want to incarcerate someone because of mental health issues.

Under the conditions of his release, Norton will be subject to drug testing and location monitoring. He will also be under constant supervision and cannot obtain a passport. Travel is restricted to Albuquerque and Bernalillo County and Norton must avoid all contact with everyone on board the flight where he sparked the incident.

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