Judge likely to extend commitment of accused Tucson gunman

Reuters News
Posted: Feb 06, 2012 2:28 PM
Judge likely to extend commitment of accused Tucson gunman

By Joseph Schuman

SAN DIEGO (Reuters) - A federal judge was expected on Monday to order Jared Loughner, the man charged with last year's deadly Arizona shooting rampage, to remain confined to a prison hospital where doctors are trying restore his mental fitness for trial.

U.S. District Judge Larry Burns said in court papers last week that he would review the status of Loughner's psychiatric commitment during a hearing set to begin later on Monday in San Diego.

Loughner, who will not be present for the proceedings, was accused of opening fire with a semiautomatic pistol on a crowd gathered outside a Tucson supermarket in January 2011 for a public event held by then-Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords.

Six people were killed and 13 others were wounded, including Giffords, who suffered a head wound a close range and recently resigned her seat on Capitol Hill after a year of rehabilitation.

Loughner has pleaded not guilty to 49 criminal charges, including multiple counts of first-degree murder and the attempted assassination of Giffords.

Burns declared him mentally incompetent to stand trial at a hearing last May, citing the conclusions of two medical experts who said he suffered from schizophrenia, disordered thinking and delusions.

Since then, Loughner's defense team has repeatedly and unsuccessfully sought to bar doctors from forcibly medicating the 23-year-old college dropout with anti-psychotic drugs.

In September, Burns granted a government request to keep Loughner detained for an additional four months at the U.S. Bureau of Prisons psychiatric hospital in Springfield, Missouri, for more treatment aimed at restoring his mental fitness. Prosecutors had sought eight months. His current commitment time at the facility is set to expire on Wednesday.

Burns has said he was inclined to grant another four-month extension of Loughner's confinement there based on a report by his prison psychologist that the accused gunman had made "measurable progress toward competency" and that his mental capacity would continue to improve.

Lawyers for Loughner and federal prosecutors have filed a joint declaration saying the psychologist's report should be used in evidence to support another four months.

In the meantime, the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals has been considering whether Burns acted properly in extending Loughner's time in the prison hospital in the first place.

(Writing by Steve Gorman; Editing by Cynthia Johnston)

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