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Giffords Shooting Case Moved to Tucson U.S. Courthouse

The prosecution of Tucson, Arizona, shooting suspect Jared Lee Loughner for murder and attempted murder in an attack on 19 people including Representative Gabrielle Giffords will be moved to a U.S. courthouse there under an agreement between his lawyer and the government.

Federal prosecutors said they sought to transfer the case over the Jan. 8 assault which killed six people from Phoenix to Tucson to make it easier for victims and witnesses to attend hearings. Judy Clarke, Loughner’s defense lawyer, and Dennis Burke, the U.S. attorney for Arizona, reserved the option to seek another venue change, according to a court filing yesterday.

“They want to appear as cooperative as possible,” said Laurie Levenson, a former federal prosecutor and now a professor at Loyola Law School in Los Angeles, of the defense agreeing to proceedings in the same city where the attack took place. Clarke may want to avoid aggravating victims in the event the case reaches a death-penalty phase, she said in a Jan. 24 interview.

Loughner, 22, was indicted by a federal grand jury for the attempted murder of Giffords, 40, who survived a gunshot through the head, and two of her aides, at the shooting during a community meeting outside a Tucson supermarket. He pleaded not guilty Jan. 24. The Justice Department has said additional counts are likely and state prosecutors have indicated they plan to pursue related charges under Arizona law.

The U.S. Court of Appeals in San Francisco, which has jurisdiction over Arizona, appointed U.S. District Judge Larry A. Burns of San Diego to preside over the federal case. One of those killed in the attack was U.S. District Judge John Roll, chief judge for Arizona federal courts.

Possible Death Penalty

Loughner was initially charged in a criminal complaint by prosecutors with the murders of Roll and a third Giffords aide, though he has yet to be indicted on those counts. If convicted of murder, he faces a possible death penalty under U.S. law. Burns, at a Jan. 24 hearing, scheduled a status conference in the case for March 9. He didn’t set a trial date.

State prosecutors in Pima County, which includes Tucson, have said they are researching what charges to file and how to coordinate those with the federal case.

Clarke and Manny Tarango, a spokesman for Burke, didn’t return calls seeking comment yesterday.

A former president of the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, Clarke has developed a reputation as an expert on asserting mental disability or defect as a defense, and has managed to keep many killers off death row.

She previously represented “Unabomber” Ted Kaczynski and al Qaeda terrorist Zacarias Moussaoui, the so-called 20th hijacker who prosecutors said planned to join the 19 men who on Sept. 11, 2001, crashed planes into the World Trade Center, the Pentagon and in Pennsylvania.

Both Kaczynski and Moussaoui are serving life sentences in a maximum security federal prison in Colorado.

The case is U.S. v. Loughner, 11-00187, U.S. District Court for the District of Arizona (Tucson).

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