The suspect in the Tucson shooting rampage wants to appear at a court hearing next week in Arizona despite objections from his lawyers that traveling from a Missouri prison facility to their mentally ill client's hometown would be disruptive.
Jared Lee Loughner has been at a prison facility in Springfield, Mo., since May 27 after he was found to be mentally unfit to stand trial. Experts have concluded Loughner suffers from schizophrenia and are trying to make him psychologically fit to trial.
The disagreement between Loughner and his attorneys about his presence at a hearing Sept. 28 in Tucson surfaced in a transcript of a conference call between lawyers and the judge on Monday. The transcript was made available late Tuesday.
In the end, U.S. District Judge Larry Burns, in a ruling released Tuesday, agreed with prosecutors that Loughner must attend the hearing.
Loughner has pleaded not guilty to 49 charges stemming from the Jan. 8 shooting that killed six and wounded 13, including Rep. Gabrielle Giffords. Prison officials have forcibly medicated Loughner with psychotropic drugs after concluding he posed a danger at the prison.
Defense lawyers had opposed a request by prosecutors to make their client attend next week's hearing where Burns will consider whether it's probable Loughner can be made mentally fit for trial and whether to extend his nearly four-month stay at the prison by another eight months.
Loughner's lead attorney, Judy Clarke, told the judge she didn't think Loughner can help her advocate against an extension.
"He is on suicide watch. He has been described as gravely disabled. We think it's an unnecessary risk to bring him to a hearing," Clarke said, adding that she saw nothing in the law that requires him to be there.
Prosecutors said they couldn't go forward with the hearing without Loughner and cited a federal law that implies that Loughner has a right to be there and confront witnesses.
Dr. Christina Pietz, a psychologist treating Loughner, testified that Loughner wanted to attend the hearing and was disappointed when learning that it had been postponed from Wednesday to Sept. 28. She said she believes Loughner has an ulterior motive to be in Tucson.
"He wants to visit his mother and father," Pietz said. "In addition to that, he understands that there is a hearing to make a determination if he can be having an extended stay in Springfield. And that would also mean that he would continue to be medicated."
The judge said that Loughner isn't communicating with his parents because he's afraid that someone is listening to his calls.
"If Mr. Loughner is incompetent, it appears to me he remains incompetent," Burns said. "I don't know what good it would do to have him present at a hearing," Burns said, noting that his lawyers can't look to him for assistance because he hasn't been mentally competent.
Still, the judge ruled that federal law appears to require his presence and said he was reluctant to grant a waiver for Loughner's presence in court if he wants to be there.
On Wednesday night, Clarke filed a motion to obtain notes of Loughner's recent conversations with Pietz that "defense counsel had not previously been privy" to.
Clarke said the Bureau of Prisons "has withheld from the defense, while sharing with the prosecution, information, opinions and conversations pertaining to issues surrounding Mr. Loughner's competency and commitment, including statements he has made in response to questioning."
Clarke asks that prison officials produce any omitted information on its Loughner reports to the defense by Monday night so it can prepare for next week's hearing.
The hearing will mark Loughner's first court appearance since a May 25 hearing in which he was removed from the court after an outburst. Less than an hour into that hearing, Loughner lowered his head to within inches of the courtroom table and then lifted his head and began a loud and angry rant.
"Thank you for the free kill. She died in front of me. Your cheesiness," Loughner said before U.S. marshals whisked him out of the courtroom.
Pietz said Loughner has made improvements. Prior to being forcibly medicated, he didn't make eye contact, a symptom of psychosis. But now he maintains regular eye contact, his physical hygiene has improved and he paces less over the last few weeks, Pietz said.
Pietz doesn't believe it would be mentally detrimental to Loughner to have him at the hearing. She said it would be helpful because he has little interaction with other people and travel would stimulate him.