- Associated Press - Thursday, March 24, 2016

WILMINGTON, Del. (AP) - Federal prosecutors who once sought to forcefully medicate a man who had aggravated the FBI with claims he was negotiating with Islamic State militants to free Western hostages have now agreed he is competent to stand trial.

Prosecutors agreed at a hearing Thursday with a defense expert’s report that Toby Juan Lopez is competent, contradicting prior evaluations by two government psychologists, including one who concluded that Lopez suffered from a delusional disorder.

Lopez, who has yet to be indicted on a charge of threatening an FBI agent, has been in federal custody since being arrested in February 2015. He has steadfastly maintained that there is nothing wrong with him and has rejected government efforts to medicate him.

“They tried to break me, and it didn’t work,” Lopez, 42, told The Associated Press in a telephone interview earlier this week.

Having found Lopez competent, U.S. Magistrate Judge Sherry Fallon ordered Thursday his release from custody into home detention under the care of his mother, subject to electronic monitoring and other conditions.

“Competency is not a static condition. It’s subject to change,” said Fallon, who had previously issued orders that Lopez remain in custody for psychological evaluation and treatment.

Public defender Edson Bostic and Assistant U.S. Attorney Edmond Falgowski declined to comment after the hearing.

Lopez, who arrived at his mother’s house outside Dover on Thursday afternoon and was preparing to make a Wal-Mart run after being outfitted with an electronic ankle bracelet, said he was glad to be home.

“My family’s been put through a lot,” he said.

Prosecutors had initially indicated they might challenge the defense expert’s competency findings, noting that a government psychologist who had previously evaluated Lopez had advised that a follow-up study would require him to spend six more months behind bars.

Meanwhile, Bostic told the judge that if the prosecution was going to challenge Lopez’s competency, the defense would seek discovery material regarding communications between Lopez and federal authorities, including FBI agents Jeffrey Reising and Nile Donahue.

“The U.S. government did this complete ‘180,’ ” Lopez said Thursday.

Lopez is charged with threatening Reising in a February 2015 email after being told to stop trying to contact families of hostages and people he believed to be Islamic State militants, including ethnic Chechen military commander Omar al-Shishani, who reportedly was killed in a U.S. airstrike earlier this month.

Lopez has several audio recordings of what he claims are Skype conversations with al-Shishani, which he shared with the government. He also has copies of email communications with Reising and phone records documenting conversations with Donahue.

At one point, however, Lopez began complaining that the FBI was not cooperating with him and was putting the lives of hostages, including American Kayla Mueller, in danger. In an email, he called Reising a liar and said he deserves “whatever ends up happening to you,” which authorities perceived as a threat.

David Fitz, an FBI spokesman in Baltimore, declined to comment Thursday when asked whether the agency believes Lopez had indeed been communicating with al-Shishani or other Islamic State terrorists, or whether Lopez provided any useful information to federal authorities. In an email, Fitz referred questions to the U.S. Attorney’s office in Delaware, which said Thursday that it had no information to share.

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