Indiana Pilot Accused of Faking Death to Flee Financial Ruin Found Competent to Stand Trial

A troubled Indiana money manager accused of trying to fake his death and escape financial ruin by parachuting before crashing his plane is competent for a June trial, a federal judge ruled Thursday.

U.S. District Judge Roger Vinson ruled Marcus Schrenker, 38, should face trial on charges of intentionally crashing the single-engine Piper Malibu on Jan. 11 and placing false distress calls.

Schrenker also faces millions of dollars in judgments and penalties in Indiana related to his failed business dealings. Prosecutors in Indiana are waiting to try Schrenker until the Florida charges are resolved.

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Authorities say the amateur daredevil pilot bailed out over Birmingham, Ala., and took a motorcycle he had stashed in a nearby storage unit to a remote Panhandle campground where federal marshals tracked him three days later.

They found him with his wrist slashed and drifting in and out of consciousness after an apparent suicide attempt.

The plane drifted 200 miles on autopilot toward the Gulf of Mexico, but ran out of fuel and crashed into a marshy area behind a Panhandle neighborhood near Milton.

Financial investigators say investors lost millions through Schrenker whose high-flying lifestyle included planes, luxury cars and a 10,000-square-foot home in an upscale neighborhood known as "Cocktail Cove," where affluent boaters often socialized.

Vinson said Tuesday that a psychiatric evaluation by doctors at a federal prison in Miami found Schrenker to be mentally competent and fit for trial.

Thomas Keith, Schrenker's federal public defender, agreed.

"He is currently competent to stand trial," Keith said in the brief hearing.

But Keith said he disagreed with parts of the sealed mental evaluation. He did not offer details, and declined to answer questions after the brief hearing.

Schrenker claims he "snapped" and was temporarily insane because of his financial problems and his crumbling marriage.

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In a four-page letter the AP received Wednesday, Schrenker said his business and marriage were collapsing, and that one day he would explain "why he did what he did."

"All of the pressure, marital problems and my struggles over the past two years just blew a fuse and I snapped," Schrenker wrote.

In the letter sent from the Pensacola jail where he was taken after his Jan. 13 arrest, Schrenker said his situation should serve as a warning for others.

"I speak of this publicly to warn others, especially in these stressful times, if you think you are on the edge and need help, get it before you wind up hurting yourself or someone else. If I would have got help I wouldn't be where I am today," he wrote.