Former St. Catherine University student capable of understanding terrorism charges, doctor testifies
A Minneapolis woman charged in federal court for allegedly supporting terrorism has an “average” ability to understand the case against her and to aid in her own defense, said a forensic psychologist who evaluated the woman.
U.S. Magistrate Judge Steven Rau took the findings of Tnuza Jamal Hassan’s competency to stand trial under advisement, and did not immediately issue a decision at a hearing on the matter Friday.
Hassan’s attorneys filed a motion to have her competency evaluated after the former St. Catherine University student allegedly set several fires on the school’s campus in mid-January and was arrested and charged in both state and federal court. Friday’s hearing was held in the federal case.
Dr. Cynthia Low, a forensic psychologist who evaluated Hassan, told the court that Hassan had no mental disorder or defect that would substantially impair her ability to understand the charges against her and their consequences.
Hassan, 20, is charged with attempting to provide material support to foreign terrorists, arson and false statements. She is accused of lighting several small fires across campus at St. Paul’s St. Catherine University, and of lying to federal authorities about writing a “radical Islamist recruitment letter” to two fellow female Muslim students in March 2017. She has pleaded not guilty in the case.
Low testified that she spoke with Hassan for about five hours and administered written tests to gauge her competency and truthfulness. Low described Hassan as cooperative in putting forth “good effort.”
“She appeared to be open and honest…,” Low said.
One of Hassan’s attorneys, Joshua Johnson, questioned Low about “symptoms” Hassan experienced between April and June 2018. Neither he, Low nor the prosecution elaborated further on the what the symptoms involved, and whether they were mental or physical.
Johnson asked Low whether the “symptoms” could reappear in the future.
Low said that Hassan showed “good” cognitive abilities.
“They may not re-emerge,” the doctor said, “but then again, we just never know.”
Low said that there was no record or information to show that Hassan experienced similar symptoms before April 2018.
Hassan allegedly set fire to books, toilet paper, sanitary napkins and a chair at St. Catherine University in mid-January, and was arrested and charged in state court that month with one count of first-degree arson. A separate case in Ramsey County District Court is scheduled for a Dec. 10 pretrial hearing.
Hassan allegedly told police that she wanted to burn down the university and hurt people in retaliation for U.S. military actions overseas.
Johnson and Hassan’s second attorney, Robert Sicoli, declined to elaborate on the “symptoms” after the hearing.
A smiling Hassan entered the courtroom in a baggy blue sweater, and waved at four teary-eyed supporters in the gallery. She wore her hair tied in a bun.
Hassan briefly spoke at the podium with Johnson at her side to confirm that she waived her right to testify Friday on her own behalf. The defense did not call any other witnesses to testify.
Hassan blew a kiss to her supporters before being escorted out of the courtroom by authorities. Her sister said afterward that the family had no comment on the case.
Chao Xiong • 612-270-4708