- Associated Press - Wednesday, February 4, 2015

BISMARCK, N.D. (AP) - A judge has ordered a mental health examination for a woman accused of leaving her 2- and 4-year-old daughters to die in a remote area of northwestern North Dakota.

U.S. District Judge Daniel Hovland said in his order dated Tuesday that there is reasonable cause to believe Michelle Wounded Face is “suffering from a mental disease or deficit.” She will spend up to a month being examined - likely in a federal Bureau of Prisons medical facility in Rochester, Minnesota - after which Hovland will hold a hearing on her mental condition.

Wounded Face, 24, a member of the Rosebud Sioux Tribe in South Dakota, has been living on the Fort Berthold Reservation in North Dakota. She is accused of abandoning her daughters in a car for more than three hours on Jan. 3, in bitterly cold weather. They survived.

Wounded Face acknowledged during an interview that she had left the children in the car to die, FBI Special Agent Megan Bennett said in an affidavit. Both the prosecution and defense also have said in court documents that Wounded Face has exhibited odd behavior, from drinking toilet water to claiming to be the daughter of gods.

Wounded Face faces a child abuse charge that carries a maximum punishment of five years in prison and a $250,000 fine. Assistant Federal Public Defender Ryan Costello in late January said Wounded Face would rely on an insanity defense and asked the federal court to release her from custody so she could pursue an evaluation and treatment at the State Hospital in Jamestown. Costello requested a court-ordered exam less than a week later after the State Hospital refused to accept Wounded Face as a voluntary committal.

State Hospital officials did not immediately respond to an Associated Press request for comment Wednesday on the reason for their decision.

Prosecutors did not object to the court-ordered mental health exam. Hovland’s order said it will help determine whether Wounded Face is mentally competent to stand trial, and whether she was insane at the time of the alleged crime.

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Follow Blake Nicholson on Twitter at: http://twitter.com/NicholsonBlake

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