Jared Lee Loughner, accused of attempting to kill U.S. Representative Gabrielle Giffords and two of her aides during a Jan. 8 shooting rampage in Tucson, Arizona, pleaded not guilty in a Phoenix courtroom.
Loughner, 22, handcuffed and shackled, was smiling when he walked into federal court yesterday. He was wearing an orange jail uniform, and his hair had grown noticeably since his arrest, when he had a shaved head. He continued to smile throughout the hearing, nodding in response to questions from Judy Clarke, his lawyer.
Clarke asked U.S. District Judge Larry A. Burns, the San Diego-based judge assigned to the case after federal judges in Arizona recused themselves, to enter a not guilty plea for Loughner. Burns took under advisement a prosecution request to hold future hearings in the case in Tucson to make it easier for victims to attend.
“I don’t think we’re opposed to that,” Clarke told Burns. “I want to find out where he’s going to go and how the arrangements are made.”
Federal prosecutors said Jan. 19 that the attempted murder charges returned by a grand jury in an indictment were “just the beginning.” Six people were killed when Loughner allegedly opened fire at a community meeting organized by Giffords, a Democrat, outside a Tucson supermarket. Thirteen people, including Giffords, who was shot through the head, were wounded in the rampage before bystanders tackled the suspect.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Wallace Kleindienst told Burns that prosecutors gave Clarke evidence including 45 tapes from Loughner’s computer and about 250 compact discs of witness interviews. Kleindienst also said more charges may be filed.
Burns scheduled a status conference for March 9 and didn’t set a trial date.
Loughner was first charged in a Jan. 9 federal criminal complaint with attempted assassination of a member of Congress, and with killing U.S. District Judge John Roll, who had come to Giffords’s meeting, and Gabriel Zimmerman, one of Giffords’s aides, as well as attempting to kill Ron Barber and Pamela Simon, also aides of Giffords.
The grand jury indictment for the attempted murder charges waived the need for a preliminary hearing before a judge to determine if there is probable cause for Loughner to stand trial. He faces as long as life in prison if convicted of attempting to kill a member of Congress.
The U.S. attorney in Phoenix, Dennis Burke, said in a Jan. 19 statement that the government had to indict Loughner within 30 days of his arrest and that to indict him on charges that potentially carry the death penalty required a “more deliberate and thorough process.”
State prosecutors in Pima County, Arizona, where the shooting took place, have said they are researching what charges to bring and how to coordinate those with the federal case.
Prosecutors filed their request on Jan. 23 to hold future hearings in Tucson.
“It is difficult for the victims to attend hearings, since they must factor in a four-hour round trip car ride to Phoenix,” Burke said in the filing. “There will be similar logistical issues with the scheduling of witnesses.”
Loughner’s lawyers may have decided not to fight moving the case to Tucson because they want to do whatever they can to avoid aggravating the victims, in the event the case reaches a death-penalty phase, said Laurie Levenson, a former federal prosecutor who is now a professor at Loyola Law School in Los Angeles. Also, there may be little advantage to having the case in Phoenix, she said.
“They want to appear as cooperative as possible,” Levenson said in a phone interview. “They need to find something redeeming” if they have to argue against the death penalty.
The case is U.S. v. Loughner, 11-00187, U.S. District Court, District of Arizona (Phoenix).