MIAMI — A U.S. magistrate ordered psychiatric tests Wednesday for an Orange County, Calif., man charged with slashing the throat of a Panamanian government employee aboard a flight to the United States.
Robert Dean Clark, 40, of Austin, Tex., and Newport Beach, Calif., was ordered held without bond until a conference March 4 with his court-appointed lawyer and court officials.
FBI agents said Clark admitted that he slashed the passenger, an airline inspector for the Panamanian government, with a pocketknife because he thought the victim was about to detonate a bomb. A search of the plane uncovered no bomb.
U.S. Magistrate Linnea Johnson ordered the psychiatric evaluation and appointed a public defender for Clark, who was held in the Metropolitan Correctional Facility in Miami on charges of committing a crime aboard an aircraft and attempted murder.
The victim of the attack, Eduardo Antonio Noel, 35, of Panama City, Panama, underwent surgery Tuesday at Jackson Memorial Hospital and was transferred to the surgical intensive care section. A report of his condition was unavailable Wednesday.
During his appearance before Johnson, FBI agents presented an affidavit describing events aboard Eastern Flight 976 from Panama City to Miami.
"Clark . . . took a large folding pocketknife, lunged at Mr. Noel, and attacked him with the knife," FBI spokesman Paul Miller said. "After the attack, Mr. Noel screamed and held his throat."
FBI agents said Clark admitted slashing Noel "because he believed Mr. Noel was about to detonate an unspecified explosive device," Miller said.
Clark told FBI agents that he had been kidnaped in Panama three days earlier and felt he was being followed. Clark said Noel, three women and two men he declined to identify were "out to harm him," Miller said.
The jet carried 145 passengers and a crew of 13 when the slashing occurred about 2:10 p.m. Tuesday. The plane landed Tuesday at 2:43 p.m., and Clark was immediately taken into custody.
Dr. Steve Fortus of St. Augustine was aboard the plane and used his hand to stop the victim's bleeding. He said Noel could have died within two minutes from the blood loss.
Miller said Clark had reportedly been living in Panama City for seven years and worked at financial institutions there.