- Associated Press - Monday, August 6, 2012

PHOENIX — The judge overseeing the deadly Tucson, Ariz., mass shooting case on Monday scheduled competency and change of plea hearings for defendant Jared Lee Loughner.

U.S. District Judge Larry A. Burns‘ scheduling order confirms that a plea agreement has been reached in the shooting that left six dead and former Rep. Gabrielle Giffords and 12 others wounded.

Before Loughner can enter the plea, Burns must find that Loughner is mentally competent and understands what is happening. The hearings are set for Tuesday in Tucson.

Loughner has spent more than a year in a federal medical facility in Missouri being treated for mental illness.

Loughner had pleaded not guilty to 49 federal charges stemming from the Jan. 8, 2011, shooting outside a Tucson supermarket where Giffords was holding a meet-and-greet with constituents.

Burns had ruled that Loughner wasn’t psychologically fit to stand trial, but that he could be made ready for trial after treatment. Experts have concluded that Loughner suffers from schizophrenia.

A person familiar with the case told The Associated Press on Saturday that a court-appointed psychiatrist is to testify that Loughner is competent to enter a plea. The person was not authorized to discuss the case publicly and spoke on condition of anonymity.

The person said the plea agreement would have Loughner receive a life sentence, taking the possibility of the death penalty off the table in the federal case.

The top prosecutor in southern Arizona’s Pima County said last year that she may file state charges in the case that could carry the death penalty.

The state prosecution has been suspended while the federal case went forward, and County Attorney Barbara LaWall was not available for comment on Monday. Her spokeswoman, Isabel Burruel-Smutzer, declined to comment, saying the office did not have an active prosecution against Loughner.

Associated Press writer Pete Yost in Washington contributed to this report.



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