Loughner at Ariz. court for mental health hearing

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TUCSON, Ariz. — The man accused of wounding Rep. Gabrielle Giffords in a deadly shooting rampage has arrived at a federal courthouse in Tucson for his first court appearance since an angry outburst got him kicked out of a May competency hearing.

Jared Lee Loughner’s mental status is again the order of business at Wednesday’s hearing, as a judge decides whether it’s likely the 23-year-old can be made competent to stand trial.

But this time, Loughner will be under the effects of psychotropic drugs, which he has been forced to take the past 60 days.

U.S. District Judge Larry Burns will decide whether to grant prosecutors’ request to extend Loughner’s stay at a Missouri prison facility by another eight months. A psychologist has told the court the extended stay would give Loughner time to improve and become mentally fit for trial.

Burns may also discuss whether to hold another hearing on Loughner’s forcible medication.

Experts have concluded he suffers from schizophrenia. Loughner has been at the Springfield, Mo., prison facility the past four months after Burns found him mentally unfit for trial at a May 25 hearing in Tucson.

Loughner interrupted that hearing with a loud rant. According to court transcripts, he said: “Thank you for the free kill. She died in front of me. Your cheesiness.”

Federal marshals whisked him from the courtroom, and he watched the rest of the hearing on closed-circuit TV from a separate room.

The judge required Loughner’s presence at Wednesday’s hearing, even though Loughner’s lawyers objected and argued traveling would be disruptive for their mentally ill client.

Loughner wanted to attend the hearing so he could see his parents, who live in Tucson. He arrived at the downtown courthouse shortly before 8:30 a.m. Wednesday.

Dr. Christina Pietz, a psychologist treating Loughner, is expected to testify that she believes Loughner can be made mentally fit for trial during an extended stay at the Missouri facility.

Loughner’s attorneys argue prosecutors have failed to prove such an outcome is probable.

Loughner has pleaded not guilty to 49 charges stemming from the Jan. 8 shooting that killed six and injured 13, including Giffords.

If Burns decides to extend Loughner’s stay in Missouri, the judge likely will also discuss whether to hold another hearing to determine if Loughner should continue to be forcibly medicated in a bid to make him mentally fit for trial.

Prison officials have forcibly medicated Loughner with psychotropic drugs after concluding at an administrative hearing that he posed a danger at the prison.

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