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Judge: Ariz. shooting suspect mentally incompetent
TUCSON, Ariz. (AP) — The suspect in the Tucson rampage that killed six people and left Rep. Gabrielle Giffords wounded with a bullet to the brain will spend up to four months in psychiatric treatment, but a surviving victim said as far as he’s concerned the man could stay there the rest of his life.
U.S. District Judge Larry Burns ordered Loughner to a federal facility in Missouri, where doctors will try to give him enough treatment to bring him to a point where he understands the case against him.
Mental health experts concluded that Loughner, a 22-year-old college dropout, suffers from schizophrenia.
At one point during the Wednesday’s hearing, Loughner lowered his head to within inches of his table and then raised it and began yelling, prompting federal marshals had to drag him from the packed courtroom.
“You don’t have to be a psychiatrist to know that the boy is disturbed,” said Fuller, who was shot in the knee and the back during the shooting spree at a Giffords‘ event outside a Tucson, Ariz., supermarket.
“Hinckley has been gone for forever,” Fuller said, referring to John Hinckley Jr., who tried to assassinate President Ronald Reagan 30 years ago and has since been committed to a psychiatric hospital.
Barber added he wasn’t surprised by the judge’s ruling, and said he trusts the judicial process.
Loughner spent five weeks in March and April at the federal facility in Springfield, Mo., where he was examined by psychologist Christina Pietz and psychiatrist Matthew Carroll. The two were asked to determine if Loughner understands the consequences of the case.
The judge said Carroll concluded Loughner’s mental health has declined in the past two or three years and his thinking on legal issues is confused. Carroll believes Loughner doesn’t grasp the gravity of the charges and is instead fixated on inconsequential issues.
Pietz concluded Loughner’s thoughts are random and that he suffers from delusions, the judge said. She noted Loughner gave nonsensical answers to questions and doesn’t understand the role of judges or jurors.
Neither expert thought Loughner was faking his mental health problems, with one of the therapists saying Loughner doesn’t want to be perceived as mentally ill. A hearing to revisit Loughner’s mental competency is set for Sept. 21.
The issue of mental incompetency can be lengthy. It followed the Elizabeth Smart kidnapping case for nearly nine years. Brian David Mitchell was arrested several months after the 2002 abduction of the Utah girl — who was raped and tortured over a nine-month period — but was only sentenced Wednesday to two life terms. The case stalled during the interim after he was deemed incompetent for trial in state court. He was ruled competent, however, in the federal court system and convicted last year.
Loughner was calm at the beginning of Wednesday’s hearing, tilting his head and swaying back and forth. Later, he began to speak and interrupted the proceedings.
His words were loud but difficult to make out. He said what sounded like: “Thank you for the freak show. She died in front of me.” Some reporters also heard him say what sounded like “You’re treasonous.”
The AP has asked the court clerk’s office for an official transcript and recording of the hearing.
Following the outburst, two marshals standing behind Loughner’s chair grabbed him by each arm and led him from the courtroom. Loughner’s father, sitting a few rows behind him, lowered his eyes and huddled with two women.
Shortly after Loughner was led away, the judge told the attorneys the suspect was entitled to be in the courtroom as long as he composed himself. “I don’t want him to act up or speak out,” Burns said.
After a 10-minute recess, the marshals said Loughner had calmed down. They then brought him back into the courtroom, and the judge asked Loughner if he wanted to stay and behave, or view the hearing on a TV screen in another room.
“I want to watch the TV screen,” Loughner said, the two marshals tightly gripping his arms.
In addition to Fuller, the survivors included Giffords aide Pam Simon, who was shot in the chest and right wrist, and retired Army Col. Bill Badger, who is credited with helping subdue Loughner after a bullet grazed the back of Badger’s head.
Outside the grocery store where the shooting occurred, Diane Mencarini, who isn’t involved in the case, said she was disturbed that the case against Loughner is on hold while therapists work to improve his mental condition.
“That sort of lets him off the hook, for a while at least,” Mencarini said.
Prosecutors had requested the mental exam, citing a YouTube video in which they believe a hooded Loughner wore garbage bags and burned an American flag.
The judge gave the two experts access to Loughner’s health records from his pediatrician, a behavioral health hospital that treated him for extreme intoxication in May 2006 and an urgent care center where he was treated in 2004 for unknown reasons.
Prosecutor Wallace Kleindienst said that Loughner will be sent to the Missouri facility in the next few days.
If Loughner is later determined to be competent enough to understand the case against him, the court proceedings will resume.
If he isn’t deemed competent at the end of his treatment, Loughner’s stay at the facility can be extended. There are no limits on the number of times such extensions can be granted.
If doctors conclude they can’t restore Loughner’s mental competency, the judge must make another decision. If he finds there’s no likelihood of Loughner being restored to competency, he can dismiss the charges.
In that case, state and federal authorities can petition to have Loughner civilly committed and could seek to extend that commitment repeatedly, said Heather Williams, a federal public defender in Tucson who isn’t involved in the Loughner case.
Loughner’s lawyers haven’t said whether they intend to present an insanity defense. But they noted in court filings that his mental condition will likely be a central issue at trial and described him as a “gravely mentally ill man.”
Giffords spokesman C.J. Karamargin declined to comment on Wednesday’s ruling and wasn’t sure if Giffords would be notified. “We’ve never commented on Loughner’s legal case,” he said. “There’s no reason to start now.”
Associated Press writer Mark Carlson in Phoenix contributed to this report.
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