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Knife-Wielding Plane Passenger Is Found Insane

July 21, 2001|DAVID ROSENZWEIG | TIMES STAFF WRITER

A psychotic, knife-wielding passenger who disrupted an American Airlines flight from Honolulu to Dallas last December was found not guilty Friday by reason of insanity.

Paul Gordon Cochran's mental condition prevented him from realizing that his actions interfered with the flight, U.S. District Judge Lourdes Baird ruled in a nonjury trial in Los Angeles.

The pilot was forced to divert the flight to Los Angeles, where six airport security officers boarded the plane and arrested the Texas resident. None of the 190 passengers and crew of 12 was hurt.

Citing three psychiatric evaluations, the prosecution and defense stipulated before trial that Cochran suffers from a serious psychotic disorder.

Cochran, 47, who remains in custody, will undergo further psychiatric tests pending a hearing before Baird next month to set the terms of his commitment.

According to an FBI affidavit, Cochran became disruptive about four hours into the flight, yelling at other passengers and wielding two clothes hangers in a menacing way. Passengers seated near him were moved to other seats.

When the crew was unable to calm Cochran, the pilot declared an emergency and routed the plane to Los Angeles.

After the plane landed, the FBI affidavit said, Cochran pulled a knife with a 3-inch blade from his backpack and charged the locked cockpit door, puncturing the bottom panel.

He then unlatched an exit door and shouted to police officers waiting outside: "I am not a beast, just a man. Drop and give me 10."

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