US lawmaker shooter ruled unfit to stand trial

Last Updated: Thursday, May 26, 2011 - 09:32

Los Angeles: A US judge ruled that Jared Lee Loughner, the gunman accused of trying to assassinate a US congresswoman and killing six other people in Tucson, is mentally unfit to stand trial.

Loughner had to be removed from court after an angry outburst at a hearing to decide if he was competent to stand trial over the January attack, in which lawmaker Gabrielle Giffords was shot in the head at point-blank range.

"Thank you for the freak show. She died in front of me," he told the judge, adding: "You`re treasonous." It was not clear what he was referring to, before he was bundled out by two court guards.

Judge Larry Burns said doctors found that Loughner was schizophrenic and has an irrational distrust of lawyers, making him unable to help in his own defence or understand the court proceedings taking place in Tucson, Arizona.

He will be kept in hospital for up to four months while doctors determine if he can be treated to make him competent to stand trial. Loughner believes he cannot have a fair trial because of a conspiracy, doctors said.

After his outburst, the judge asked 22-year-old Loughner if he wanted to stay in the courtroom or watch proceedings on television. The suspect said he wanted to watch it on TV.

Loughner, 22, was arrested after the shooting at a public meeting Giffords held in Tucson on January 08, which triggered a wave of soul-searching over America`s starkly divisive political culture.

He pleaded not guilty in March to all charges related to the attack, which also killed a US federal judge and a nine-year-old girl. He was subsequently sent for mental tests to determine if he was fit for trial.

Specifically he was examined by a staff psychologist at the US Medical Centre for Federal Prisoners in Springfield, Missouri, and a forensic psychiatrist in San Diego.

Both agreed he was unfit mentally to stand trial, in reports cited at Wednesday`s hearing.

More than 100 people crowded into Tucson court for the mental competence hearing, including some of the 13 people who were injured in the shooting, and their family members.

Loughner`s parents, seated in the third row, sobbed when details of their son`s mental illness was read out, according to the Arizona Star newspaper.

If he does go to trial and is convicted, Loughner could face the death penalty over the shootings, local US Attorney Dennis Burke has said, while promising "a deliberate and thorough process ... to see that justice is done”.

Giffords is recovering from a bullet wound to the brain at a Houston rehabilitation centre, and recently travelled to Florida to watch her astronaut husband Mark Kelly, 46, lift off in the Space Shuttle Endeavour.

A spokesman for Giffords said she would make no comment on the ruling.

Kelly said last month that his wife continues to make progress. "You know, it`s difficult for her to walk. The communication skills are difficult, at this point," he told `CBS Evening News with Katie Couric`.

But he said: "Her personality`s a hundred percent there."

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First Published: Thursday, May 26, 2011 - 09:32

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