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Loughner Not Competent for Shooting Spree Trial, U.S. Judge Says

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Loughner Found Incompetent for Trial
Jared Lee Loughner. Source: Pima County Sheriff's Forensic Unit/Getty Images

May 26 (Bloomberg) -- Jared Lee Loughner isn’t competent to stand trial on charges that he killed six people and tried to assassinate a member of Congress in a Jan. 8 shooting spree in Tucson, Arizona, a judge ruled.

U.S. District Judge Larry Burns issued his decision at a hearing yesterday in federal court in Tucson. Loughner was examined by a Bureau of Prisons psychologist as well as by an independent, court-appointed expert, both of whom concluded he is incompetent and has schizophrenia. Prosecutors and defense lawyers didn’t question the doctors who conducted the two examinations.

Burns ordered that Loughner remain in U.S. custody for treatment for four months or until doctors determine he is mentally competent to help in his defense. The judge scheduled a hearing for Sept. 21.

Prosecutors in March asked Burns to order an examination of whether Loughner was competent to go on trial because video clips he posted online suggested that he might have “mental issues.” In one video clip, a hooded and masked person, believed to be the suspect, is wearing garbage bags on his lower body and burning an American flag.

U.S. Representative Gabrielle Giffords, an Arizona Democrat, was among 13 wounded in the shooting rampage outside a supermarket where she was holding a community meeting. Bystanders wrestled the suspect to the ground. Giffords survived a gunshot wound through her head. U.S. District Judge John Roll was among those killed.

Loughner, 22, has pleaded not guilty to murder and attempted murder charges in federal court.

Removed From Courtroom

Loughner was removed from the courtroom yesterday by marshals after an outburst at the start of the hearing. The judge said he could return to the courtroom if he was calm; he chose to watch the proceedings on closed-circuit television.

Burns said the legal standard for competency is whether the defendant is rational enough understand the proceedings and is able to assist defense attorneys. Both experts agreed Loughner is “not presently competent,” the judge said.

Burns summarized the findings of the two doctors who examined Loughner and said that the written reports won’t be made public because they contain confidential health information. He said both experts came to the same conclusion that Loughner has schizophrenia, a mental disorder that makes it hard to distinguish reality, think logically and behave normally in social settings.

Burns said that according to the evaluations, mental illness may impair Loughner’s ability to understand what he is facing even while the schizophrenia in itself doesn’t make him incompetent to stand trial.

About one in 100 Americans have schizophrenia, according to the National Institutes of Health.

Loughner’s Mental Health

Burn said one of the two experts concluded Loughner’s mental health had been in decline for the past “two or three years.” That report said Loughner “doesn’t grasp the gravity” of the case against him and is “fixated on inconsequential and unrelated issues.”

Dennis Burke, the U.S. Attorney for Arizona, said prosecutors are “confident” that Loughner will be restored to competency and that the case against him can eventually proceed.

Prosecutors haven’t said yet whether they intend to seek the death penalty.

Defense attorneys left immediately after the hearing and weren’t available for comment.

Attorney Mike Piccarreta, representing Roll’s family members, said they had expected the incompetency finding and weren’t surprised.

Other victims and their representatives who attended yesterday’s hearing declined to comment.

‘Creepy Stares’

Pima Community College on May 19 released e-mails by college administrators and campus police that detail Loughner’s behavior in classrooms last year. The e-mails describe “creepy stares” and instances where Loughner challenged teachers, saying that he has a right to earn an “A” “regardless of what answers he gives because of free speech.”

Loughner told one counselor who questioned how he was acting in a math class that “my instructor said he called a number 6 and I said I call it 18.” He also asked the instructor “how can you deny math instead of accept it,” according to the e-mail the counselor sent to campus administrators.

“He has extreme views and frequently meanders from the point,” according to the counselor’s report. “He seems to have difficulty understanding how his actions impact others, yet very attuned to his unique ideology that is not always homogenous.”

Loughner was expelled from the college in September.

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

To contact the reporters on this story: A.J. Flick in Tucson, Arizona, at ajflick@hotmail.com; Edvard Pettersson in Los Angeles at epettersson@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Michael Hytha at mhytha@bloomberg.net

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