Jared Lee Loughner, accused of attempting to assassinate U.S. Representative Gabrielle Giffords and of killing U.S. District Judge John Roll, returned to federal custody after appearing in court for the first time and being assigned a lawyer who has represented infamous murderers.
Loughner, 22, didn’t enter a plea yesterday to five federal charges related to the Jan. 8 shooting spree in Tucson, Arizona, that claimed six lives and wounded at least 13 others. He was assigned a lawyer whose previous clients included the Unabomber.
He is also accused of killing Gabriel Zimmerman, a member of Giffords’s staff, during the Jan. 8 rampage at a shopping center, according to a criminal complaint filed Jan. 9. He is also charged with attempting to kill two other members of Giffords’s staff.
When asked by U.S. Magistrate Lawrence Anderson whether he understood the charges against him and that he had the right to remain silent, Loughner responded, “Yes.”
Clad in a beige jail uniform and wearing handcuffs and shackles, Loughner, whose head was shaved, also responded “yes” to verify that the signature on a financial affidavit was his. The affidavit, qualifying him to be represented by a public defender, was sealed from public view.
Federal prosecutors said they are drafting an indictment against Loughner for presentation to the grand jury.
“This office is reviewing all the evidence in the case, consulting with the victims and their families of these crimes and teaming and coordinating with our law enforcement partners,” U.S. Attorney Dennis K. Burke in Phoenix said yesterday in a statement. “I have been in consistent contact with Attorney General Eric Holder, as well as Deputy Attorney General Cole, apprising them of the developments in this case.”
Anderson told Loughner he may face the death penalty if convicted of the murder counts. Loughner might face a sentence of life in prison for the attempted assassination of Giffords and as long as 20 years for each count of attempted murder, the judge said.
Loughner is scheduled to return to court Jan. 24 to enter a plea at a preliminary hearing or, if he is indicted, for an arraignment.
Anderson approved a request by the federal Public Defender’s Office in Phoenix to have Judy Clarke and Mark Fleming appointed as Loughner’s lawyers. Clarke, appearing with Loughner, told the judge that she had agreed with prosecutors not to seek bail for him yesterday.
Clarke said that all federal prosecutors in Arizona should step down from the case. If the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Arizona doesn’t recuse itself, Clarke was told by the judge that she would have to file a motion if she wanted to request that the office be disqualified.
Clarke previously represented “Unabomber” Ted Kaczynski and is the former president of the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers. She has represented several high- profile defendants in death penalty cases, including convicted al Qaeda terrorist Zacarias Moussaoui; Susan Smith, a South Carolina woman convicted of drowning her two sons, and 1996 Olympics bomber Eric Rudolph. In all of those cases, the defendant’s mental state was a factor.
Investigators found a 2007 letter from Giffords to Loughner during a search of his home, thanking him for attending a “Congress on your Corner” event at a mall in Tucson, according to a Federal Bureau of Investigation statement filed Jan. 9 with the criminal complaint. They also found an envelope with handwriting saying “I planned ahead,” “My assassination” and “Giffords,” according to the statement.
FBI Director Robert Mueller said there were discussions between the U.S. attorney and Pima County prosecutors about possible further charges in federal or state court.
“We do not yet have all the answers,” Mueller told reporters Jan. 9 at a news conference in Tucson. It is “premature” to conclude “what the motivations were of the individual in this particular case,” he said.
State prosecutors are researching which charges to bring and how to coordinate these with the federal case, said Chief Deputy County Attorney Amelia Craig Cramer in a phone interview yesterday.
“We are not under time pressure to bring charges because the suspect is in federal custody,” Craig Cramer said.
State charges weren’t likely to be brought in the next few days and prosecutors would need to go before a grand jury and inform the suspect before making them public, she said.
Bystanders tackled Loughner after he allegedly opened fire at a community meeting organized by Giffords outside a supermarket in Tucson. One of those killed was a 9-year-old girl.
“There’s absolutely no evidence to indicate anybody else was involved in this,” Pima County Sheriff Clarence Dupnik said Jan. 8 in an interview.
In addition to the five federal employees, more than a dozen other people were shot outside the Safeway grocery store, according to the FBI statement. Giffords, a Democrat beginning her third two-year term in the U.S. House, was shot once in the head.
Law enforcement officers recovered a Glock 9mm pistol that Loughner bought in November and is alleged to have used in the shooting, according to the statement.
Legislative business on the U.S. House calendar for the coming week is being postponed, said House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, a Virginia Republican. The House had planned to vote tomorrow on a repeal of Obama’s health-care overhaul.
The dead include Roll, 63, Zimmerman, 30, Christina Green, 9, Dorothy Murray, 76, Dorwin Stoddard, 76, and Phyllis Schneck, 79, according to the sheriff’s office.
President Barack Obama called the shooting “a tragedy for our entire country,” and ordered the U.S. flag be flown at half-staff.
“Violence has no place in a free society,” the president said. Obama sent Mueller to Arizona to lead the probe into the shooting.
The case is U.S. v. Loughner, 11-mj-00035, U.S. District Court, District of Arizona (Phoenix).
To contact the editor responsible for this story: David E. Rovella at firstname.lastname@example.org.