- Associated Press - Friday, April 22, 2016

WILMINGTON, Del. (AP) - Federal prosecutors on Friday dropped criminal charges against a former car salesman who had aggravated the FBI with claims he was negotiating with Islamic State militants to free Western hostages.

The decision to drop the case against Toby Juan Lopez came less than a month after prosecutors agreed he was competent to stand trial, and on the eve of a preliminary hearing next week at which FBI agent Jeffrey Reising would have faced questions under oath about his communications with Lopez.

Lopez had been 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 last month.

David Fitz, a spokesman for the FBI in Baltimore, referred questions Friday to Kim Reeves, a spokeswoman with the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Delaware.

“When new information, facts or analysis becomes available that affects the viability of a case, justice requires that prosecutors evaluate that information and, in some instances, dismiss charges,” Reeves said in an emailed statement, which did not include any details. “While dismissing a charged case is exceedingly rare, we have not hesitated to do so when the facts and law support such a decision.”

After spending more than a year in federal custody, Lopez was placed on home detention last month after prosecutors agreed with a defense expert’s report that Lopez was mentally competent, contradicting prior evaluations by two government psychologists, including one who concluded that he suffered from a delusional disorder. At one point, prosecutors planned to seek court approval to have Lopez forcefully medicated.

Lopez, who was never indicted, has steadfastly maintained that there was nothing wrong with him, and has suggested that government officials were trying to marginalize him and keep him quiet for fear of being embarrassed. He said last month that the government tried to “break” him, but failed.

“He’s so happy. He’s so excited,” his mother, Joyce Lopez, said Friday after the case was dismissed. “He’s heading down to the beach with some of his friends.”

Lopez’s attorney, chief federal public defender Edson Bostic, said he was appreciative of the government’s decision to dismiss the complaint.

“This has been a very complex matter,” Bostic said. “I believe that the dismissal is an appropriate thing that was entered after due consideration by all concerned.”

Prosecutors had initially indicated they might challenge the defense expert’s conclusion that Lopez was competent, saying that a follow-up study by a government psychiatrist would require him to spend six more months behind bars.

Meanwhile, Bostic told the judge in a letter earlier this month that the defense would call Reising as a witness at a preliminary hearing and had asked the government to turn over emails, texts and other materials relevant to the case and the alleged threat made by Lopez.

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 FBI agent Nile 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.”

Fitz declined to comment last month when asked whether the FBI believes Lopez had indeed been communicating with al-Shishani or other Islamic State terrorists, or whether Lopez provided any useful information to federal authorities.


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