Judge reverses ruling on Loughner mental exam

Reuters News
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Posted: Mar 29, 2011 4:01 PM

By David Schwartz

PHOENIX (Reuters) - A judge has ruled that he would select a psychiatrist to conduct a second, independent evaluation of Arizona shooting rampage suspect Jared Lee Loughner, reversing an earlier decision to leave the choice to defense lawyers.

Loughner, who has a widely publicized history of erratic, paranoid behavior, is charged with killing six people and wounding 13 others, including an Arizona congresswoman, during a January 8 shooting spree in Tucson.

The 22-year-old college dropout already is undergoing a court-ordered psychiatric examination by medical staff at a U.S. Bureau of Prisons mental health facility in Missouri to determine if he is competent to stand trial.

U.S. District Judge Larry Burns, in granting defense lawyers the right to conduct a second, independent exam, had ruled that the defense team could select the psychiatrist.

But in court papers filed late on Monday, Burns reconsidered that ruling, saying that he would appoint that individual himself as well.

"I do have the authority ... to appoint more than one examiner if I find that appropriate, and I make that finding," Burns wrote in documents filed with the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals.

Burns has said he expects a report on Loughner's mental health by May 11.

The 9th Circuit still must make a final ruling on the issue, following an appeal by defense attorneys last week.

Loughner is accused of opening fire on U.S. Representative Gabrielle Giffords and a crowd of bystanders outside a Tucson supermarket. The Arizona Democrat survived the shooting but was left gravely wounded with a bullet wound to the head.

Loughner pleaded not guilty earlier this month to 49 federal charges, including the attempted assassination of Giffords and two counts of first-degree murder of a U.S. government employee for the deaths of a federal judge and a Giffords aide.

He also is charged with killing four others who were "participants at a federally provided activity," according to the indictment.

Those charges, as well as first-degree murder through the use of a firearm, are all capital offenses, but federal prosecutors have yet to decide whether to seek the death penalty.

Giffords, who survived the shooting, is undergoing rehabilitation at a Houston facility.

(Editing by Dan Whitcomb and Steve Gorman)