Loughner to Appear in Court for Competency, Plea Change

Jared Lee Loughner, charged with killing six people and trying to assassinate U.S. Representative Gabrielle Giffords last year, will appear before a federal judge in Tucson, Arizona, today for a hearing on whether he’s mentally fit for court and can change his plea.

The former community college student previously pleaded not guilty to charges of murder and attempted murder related to the Jan. 8, 2011, shooting.

“If the court finds the defendant competent, his counsel has requested a follow-on change of plea hearing,” U.S. District Judge Larry Burns said yesterday in an order. “Accordingly, assuming the court finds the defendant competent, it will also consider whether to accept the defendant’s proffered pleas.”

The Los Angeles Times, citing unidentified sources, reported Aug. 4. that Loughner will plead guilty at the hearing. Psychiatric experts who have examined the 23-year-old are expected to testify that he comprehends what happened, the paper said.

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. She resigned Jan. 25 to focus on her recovery. A 9-year-old girl and a federal judge were among those killed in the shooting.

Burns ruled that Loughner wasn’t competent to stand trial and ordered him to remain in U.S. custody for treatment or until doctors determine he is mentally competent to help in his defense.

Loughner has been involuntarily medicated with anti-psychotic drugs and confined to a federal prison hospital in Springfield, Missouri. The forced drugging was approved by Burns, over objections of Loughner’s lawyer, on grounds that Loughner was a danger to others.

The case is U.S. v. Loughner, 11-187, U.S. District Court, District of Arizona (Tucson).

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