Phoenix: The gunman charged with trying to kill a US lawmaker in a Tucson shooting spree that killed six pleaded not guilty to attempted murder, in his second appearance before a judge.
Again smiling in court, Jared Lee Loughner -- whose haunting mugshot was released shortly after the January 08 attacks -- sat quietly as his lawyer said he denied trying to kill congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords and two aides.
Lawyer Judy Clarke, entering not guilty pleas to the three counts of attempted murder he so far faces, added she had no objections to the trial being held in Tucson itself.
The 22-year-old, who had posted angry rambling messages online before the attack, wore glasses and an orange prison jumpsuit, but his hair had grown out since his first time in court, when he was shaven-headed.
Loughner first appeared in court two days after the attacks in Tucson, Arizona, in which he allegedly opened fire on Giffords and others at a public meeting outside a local grocery store.
A federal grand jury indicted Loughner last week on three counts of attempted murder -- of Giffords and aides Pam Simon and Ron Barber -- although further charges are expected, and he could ultimately face the death penalty.
The victims included a nine-year-old girl and an Arizona federal judge, John Roll.
On Monday, Loughner's lawyer was asked whether she had any objections to the trial being held in Tucson, rather than Phoenix, some two hours away by car. Clarke said she did not, although no formal decision was made on that matter.
Critics have suggested that Loughner could escape justice because of his mental condition, but his attorney downplayed this prospect, telling judge Larry Burns: "We are not raising the issue of competency at this time."
A further case hearing was scheduled for March 09.
Loughner's attorney Clarke is known for taking on difficult cases: she represented Unabomber Ted Kaczynski -- an anarchist serving life without parole for a 20-year mail bombing spree -- and 9/11 conspirator Zacarias Moussaoui.
The trial is being overseen by California federal judge Larry Burns, after all Arizona judges were disqualified because of the risk they could not be impartial, given the killing of one of their colleagues.
Loughner -- who has still shed no light on his motives for the horrific attack -- was detained at the scene of the shooting, which took place at a "Congress on Your Corner" public event outside a Safeway grocery store.
Investigators found documents at his home including an envelope on which were written "Giffords”, "My Assassination" and "I planned ahead”, as well as what looked like Loughner's signature.
It emerged that he had bought the gun and ammunition used in the attack legally in local stores, and had left rambling and mostly semi-coherent messages online, suggesting he was angry at government and other authorities.
The attacks triggered a firestorm of debate about the influence of America's fiercely divided political culture.
President Barack Obama visited Tucson on January 13 to attend a memorial for the victims of the attack, urging Americans to heal their poisonous political divisions to honour the slain schoolgirl, Christina Taylor Green.
The White House announced on Monday that the girl's family will attend President Barack Obama's State of the Union address on Tuesday, along with Daniel Hernandez, the 20-year-old intern who rushed to the aid of Giffords.
Giffords, shot in the head at point-blank range, is making a remarkable recovery, doctors say. On Friday, she was transferred from Tucson to a hospital in Houston, Texas, to be closer to her family as she begins rehabilitation.
First Published: Tuesday, January 25, 2011, 08:19