When Tnuza Jamal Hassan arrived in the prison hospital in northern Texas, she spent up to 12 hours per day praying for protection against evil spirits called “jinn,” which she believed had possessed her body.
Now she is clearheaded, understands her criminal charges and holds an impressive ability to recall even minute details, said Dr. Amor Correa, a forensic psychologist who evaluated Hassan for competency.
In federal court in St. Paul on Tuesday, Correa appeared alongside Hassan via video conference from Carswell Federal Medical Center in a hearing on whether Hassan is competent to face charges. Hassan is a 21-year-old former St. Catherine University student charged with attempting to provide material support to foreign terrorists, arson and making false statements. She has pleaded not guilty.
Correa told the court she updated Hassan’s diagnosis from schizophrenia to a “mood disorder with a psychotic component” after Hassan’s symptoms disappeared under her medical observation despite Hassan declining medication. Correa said she believes Hassan is now mentally competent.
However, Correa said Hassan’s condition is recurring, so there’s no way to predict if — or when — another episode could occur. Correa said it’s possible Hassan could relapse into a state of psychosis by the time the trial begins.
Federal Magistrate Judge Elizabeth Cowan Wright, who presided over Tuesday’s hearing, will make a ruling early next year.
In court, Hassan appeared attentive, with straight posture and occasional smiles.
Hassan is accused of setting several small fires on the St. Catherine campus. No one was injured, but one occurred inside a residence hall where 33 children were present at a day care at the time, according to charges. In a March 2017 letter, she allegedly encouraged two fellow St. Catherine students to “join the jihad in fighting” and to join “al-Qaida, Taliban, or Al Shabaab,” according to the indictment. She later lied to federal agents about writing the letter.
Questions of Hassan’s mental state have been central to the court proceedings so far. Her competency reports are sealed, though Correa said in court that Hassan has been evaluated several times, and the opinions have changed. In a hearing last year, forensic psychologist Dr. Cynthia Low said Hassan held an “average” ability to understand the case and aid in her defense.
Correa later deemed Hassan incompetent, she said. Hassan was “very highly symptomatic” at that time. In addition to believing spirits were possessing her, Hassan also scratched at objects she thought had been implanted in her skin, Correa said.
But now Hassan “doesn’t show any of those symptoms,” Correa said.