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Accused Tucson killer pleads innocent to new charges

Reuters News
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Posted: Mar 22, 2011 10:59 AM
Accused Tucson killer pleads innocent to new charges

By Tim Gaynor

TUCSON, Ariz (Reuters) - Tucson shooting rampage suspect Jared Loughner pleaded not guilty on Wednesday to an expanded, 49-count indictment charging him with murdering a federal judge and trying to assassinate Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords.

A 22-year-old college dropout, Loughner is accused of opening fire on Giffords and a crowd of bystanders attending an event outside a grocery store in Tucson on January 8, killing six people, including the judge, and wounding 13 others, Giffords among them.

Loughner's lawyer, Judy Clarke, asked the court to enter a plea of not guilty to the indictment on behalf of her client, who stood by her side as the charges were read.

Wearing shackles and dressed in tan prison jumpsuit, Loughner entered the courtroom with a slight smile on his face, sporting sideburns and his formally shaved hair grown out.

Asked in court if his name was Jared Loughner, he replied "Yes it is."

Loughner's arraignment in District Court in Tucson comes two days after federal prosecutors asked that he be ordered to undergo a psychiatric evaluation to determine whether he is mentally competent to stand trial.

District Judge Larry Burns put that request on the agenda for Wednesday's hearing, along with a defense motion seeking to bar prison officials from furnishing the FBI with psychological records about Loughner and reports on his behavior while he is incarcerated.

Burns also told the two sides to be prepared to discuss a request by news organizations to release search warrant records in the case, now that a new, expanded indictment against Loughner has been unsealed.

Loughner, who investigators said had a history of mental problems, is accused as the lone gunman in a shooting spree that turned an outdoor "Congress on Your Corner" gathering for Giffords into a bloodbath. Giffords, a Democrat, was shot through the head at close range and remains hospitalized at a rehabilitation center in Houston.

The Justice Department has opened a review of the case to decide whether to seek the death penalty or life in prison.

The 28-page indictment unsealed last Friday contains 49 charges against Loughner, including two counts of first-degree murder of a federal employee for the deaths of a judge and a Giffords aide. He also is charged with causing the deaths of four others who were "participants at a federally provided activity."

Those charges as well as additional counts of first-degree murder through the use of a firearm are all capital offenses.

The latest charges expand on an indictment returned in January accusing Loughner of attempting to assassinate Giffords -- described by authorities as his primary target -- and the attempted murder of two other staff members who were wounded.

The new indictment incorporates those charges and a criminal complaint filed the day after the shooting which included murder charges for deaths of Judge John Roll, the chief federal judge in Arizona, and Gabe Zimmerman, the Democratic congresswoman's director of community outreach.

Defense attorneys have asked that the potential trial date be pushed back to at least January 2013. Burns had suggested the trial get under way by September 20 of this year.

(Editing by Steve Gorman and Greg McCune)