Lawyers seek to stop Loughner's forced medication

AP News
Posted: Sep 23, 2011 11:14 PM
Lawyers seek to stop Loughner's forced medication

Lawyers for the Tucson shooting rampage suspect asked a federal court again Friday to stop his forced medication at a medical facility in a Missouri prison.

Jared Lee Loughner's lead attorney, Judy Clarke, wrote in an emergency motion that the ongoing forced medication of her client is unlawful. She said Loughner will suffer "irreparable harm" unless the prison is ordered to cease giving him a daily "four-drug cocktail," or at least start tapering him off it.

Loughner, 23, has been at the Springfield, Mo., facility since May 27 after he was found to be mentally unfit to stand trial. Experts have concluded he suffers from schizophrenia and are trying to restore his competency.

Loughner has pleaded not guilty to 49 charges stemming from the Jan. 8 shooting at a political event outside a northwest Tucson supermarket. The rampage left six people dead and 13 wounded, including Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, who is still recovering.

Prison officials have forcibly medicated Loughner with psychotropic drugs after concluding he posed a danger at the facility. Federal prosecutors have previously argued Loughner should remain medicated because his mental and physical condition has been rapidly deteriorating.

Clarke said Loughner "has an exceptionally strong interest in not being executed." But she noted it is "no secret" that the government may seek the death penalty if the case is eventually tried.

Clarke said the prosecution's position of seeking to forcibly medicate Loughner so he can be found mentally fit to stand trial "raises the specter of medicating him to execute him."

"The forced-medication road taken by the government here is one that potentially leads to Mr. Loughner's death," she wrote.

An after-hours call to the U.S. Attorney's Office in Tucson for comment on Clarke's filing wasn't immediately returned Friday night.

U.S. District Court Judge Larry Burns ruled Aug. 26 that prison doctors may continue to forcibly medicate Loughner, noting the suspect kept himself awake for 50 hours straight after an appeals court stopped the forced medication July 1.

Clarke wrote in her Friday motion to Burns that "psychotropic drugs alter the chemical balance in a patient's brain and can have serious, even fatal, side effects."

She said there is no legal basis to forcibly medicate Loughner, and the Missouri prison has no authority to do so for competency restoration.

That decision can only be made by a court after an adversarial hearing, Clarke said.

Loughner is expected to attend a hearing Wednesday in Tucson 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 Missouri facility by another eight months.

Loughner was forcibly medicated between June 21 and July 1 after prison officials determined his outbursts there posed a danger to others. He was given twice daily doses of Risperidone, a drug used for people with schizophrenia, bipolar disorder and severe behavior problems.

Prison officials stopped doing that on July 2 after the 9th Circuit granted his lawyers' request for a temporary stay of involuntary medication. But prosecutors said Loughner was put on a 24-hour suicide watch in mid-July after he asked a prison psychologist to kill him.

Prosecutors also said Missouri prison staff reported Loughner had been pacing in circles near his cell door, screaming loudly, crying for hours at a time and claiming to hear messages from a radio.

Records show the prison's medical and psychology staff feared Loughner's condition could worsen without immediate care and resumed medicating him July 18.

Loughner's lawyers haven't said whether they intend to present an insanity defense, but they have noted in court filings that his mental condition will likely be a central issue at trial.