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Former UCLA lecturer not competent to stand trial on threats charges

Matthew Harris was arrested in February 2022 after circulating an 800-page manifesto threatening violence against 35 individuals.

(CN) — A former University of California, Los Angeles, philosophy lecturer accused of circulating an 802-page manifesto pledging mass violence will not stand trial in February after a federal judge on Friday determined him to be mentally incompetent.

Matthew Harris, 31, faces two counts of threats in interstate commerce, each carrying a maximum penalty of five years in prison and a $250,000 fine if convicted. Harris also faces one count each of making a false statement to a firearms dealer and wrongfully possessing ammunition, both punishable by up to 10 years in prison and a $250,000 fine if convicted.

Harris pleaded not guilty in February 2022.

"The court finds by a preponderance of the evidence that the defendant is presently suffering from a mental disease or defect rendering him mentally incompetent to the extent that he is unable to understand the nature and consequences of the proceedings against him or to assist properly in his defense," U.S. District Judge Raymond Moore wrote in a 3-page order. Moore was appointed by Barack Obama.

Moore ordered Harris hospitalized until his condition improves enough to stand trial or the pending charges are dismissed. He will likely be reevaluated within four months.

Harris joined the UCLA department of philosophy in spring 2019 as a post-doctoral fellow.

According to federal prosecutors, in January 2021 Harris sent his mother an email titled “Plans to murder Katherine Ritchie in September when UC Irvine reopens with a MP5 for giving me schizophrenia,” according to an affidavit by FBI special agent Stephanie Benitez. Ritchie is a philosophy professor at the University of California, Irvine.

Following several other emails over the next few months, Harris’ mother informed the UCLA philosophy department that her son was mentally ill. In April 2021, UCLA police issued a threat warrant for Harris. He was detained in North Carolina and hospitalized for one month.

In June 2021, a restraining order was filed against Harris banning him from California college campuses and from possessing weapons for three years. He moved to Boulder, Colorado, that summer. That November, prosecutors say, he obtained a Colorado state driver’s license and attempted to buy a “bodyguard revolver” at the Silver Bullet Shooting Range in Wheat Ridge, Colorado.

The purchase was denied.

Prosecutors say that on Jan. 31, 2022, Harris shared a Google Drive link to an 803-page manifesto titled “Death Sentences,” with 35 individuals named. Throughout the manifesto, Harris made a variety of threats, employing the word "kill" 7,512 times, "shoot" 2,512 times, and "bomb" 2,489 times.

The manifesto expressed an infatuation with a woman named Sandra and with JonBenet Ramsey, the 6-year-old youth beauty pageant queen who was murdered in her family's Colorado mansion in 1996.

Prosecutors say Harris posted a video titled “UCLA Philosophy (Mass Shooting)” to his YouTube channel, which according to the FBI affidavit shows Harris "talking with images from the 2003 movie 'Zero Day,' which depicts a movie version of the surveillance cameras at the Columbine school shooting.”

The Boulder Police Department arrested Harris this past February and found him in possession of a box of .38 ammunition.

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