PHOENIX (AP) - A federal judge ruled Wednesday that the suspect
in the Tucson shooting rampage that wounded U.S. Congresswoman
Gabrielle Giffords is mentally incompetent to stand trial, putting
the criminal case against him on hold indefinitely.
The decision by U.S. District Judge Larry Burns means Jared Lee
Loughner, 21, will be sent to a federal facility for up to four
months in a bid to restore his competency.
Loughner, dressed in a khaki prison suit and sporting bushy,
reddish sideburns, was removed from the hearing after an outburst
and had to watch part of the proceeding on a TV screen in another
room. Burns had Loughner escorted from the courtroom after Loughner
lowered his head and said what sounded like: "Thank you for the
freak show. She died in front of me." His head was inches from the
table in front of him.
Loughner was later brought back into the courtroom, and the
judged told him he had a right to watch the hearing. Burns asked
Loughner if he wanted to stay in the courtroom and behave or view
the proceeding on a screen in another room.
Loughner responded: "I want to watch the TV screen."
At least two survivors of the Jan. 8 attack looked on: Giffords
aide Pam Simon, who was shot in the chest and right wrist; and
retired Army Col. Bill Badger, who is credited with helping subdue
Loughner after a bullet grazed the back of Badger's head.
The ruling came after Loughner spent five weeks in March and
April at a federal facility in Springfield, Mo., where he was
examined by two court-appointed mental health professionals. The
two were asked to determine whether Loughner understands the
consequences of the case against him.
The competency reports by psychologist Christina Pietz and
psychiatrist Matthew Carroll haven't been publicly released.
Loughner has pleaded not guilty to 49 federal charges stemming
from the Jan. 8 shooting at a meet-and-greet event that wounded
Giffords and 12 others and killed six people, including a
9-year-old girl and a federal judge.
Prosecutors had asked for the mental exam, citing a YouTube
video in which they believe a hooded Loughner wore garbage bags and
burned an American flag.
The judge gave the two mental health professionals access to
Loughner's health records from his pediatrician, a behavioral
health hospital that treated him for extreme intoxication in May
2006 and an urgent care center where he was treated in 2004 for
Loughner will be sent to a federal facility for a maximum of
four months to see if his competency can be restored. If he's later
determined to be competent, the case against him will resume.
If he isn't deemed competent at the end of his treatment, his
stay at the facility can be extended. There are no limits on the
number of times such extensions can be granted.
If doctors conclude they can't restore his mental competency,
the judge would have to decide whether the suspect can be restored.
If the judge decides there's no likelihood of restoration, the
judge can dismiss the charges against him. In that case, state and
federal authorities can petition to have him civilly committed and
could seek to extend that commitment repeatedly, said Heather
Williams, a federal public defender in Tucson who isn't involved in
the Loughner case.
The doctors who examined Loughner were ordered not to focus on
his sanity at the time of the shooting.
Loughner's lawyers haven't said whether they intend to present
an insanity defense. But they noted in court filings that his
mental condition will likely be a central issue at trial and
described him as a "gravely mentally ill man."
(Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)