Investigators In Tucson Build Case Against Loughner

Jared Loughner. the man accused in the shooting rampage that left Rep. Gabrielle Giffords in critical condition, was in court for the first time Monday. In his brief court appearance, Loughner was not asked to enter a plea.

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RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Renee Montagne.

STEVE INSKEEP, host:

And I'm Steve Inskeep.

When a gunman fired on Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords at a public meeting, people said it was an attack on democracy itself. Now Americans work to uphold another part of the democratic system, giving the defendant a fair day in court.

MONTAGNE: Jared Lee Loughner made his first appearance in federal court yesterday afternoon in Tucson. He's charged with the shooting rampage that left six dead and 14 wounded, including, of course, Democratic Congresswoman Giffords.

INSKEEP: He has not yet been asked to enter a plea.

NPR's Martin Kaste reports the next big issue may be where to hear the case.

MARTIN KASTE: Contrary to some people's expectations, Jared Loughner did not seem crazy. His head was shaved and his wrists were in handcuffs, but he answered the judge's questions with terse clarity.

His attorney, Judy Clarke of San Diego, sometimes touched him on the back, rubbing his shoulder blades and at one point whispering, You okay? Magistrate Judge Lawrence Anderson read out the charges: murder and attempted murder of federal employees, and one count of attempted assassination of a member of Congress. Asked if he understood the charges, Loughner said yes.

Federal prosecutors called Loughner a flight risk and a danger to the community, and the court ordered him held without bail, and then the judge looked the defendant in the eye and he said, Good luck to you, Mr. Loughner.

At the same hour, back in Tucson, FBI agents continued to build the case against Loughner, taking photos and measurements at the site of the massacre outside the Safeway.

Neighboring stores have now re-opened, but customers like Paul Madewell are still keenly aware of what happened here.

Mr. PAUL MADEWELL: What he did was wrong. Why kill all those six people? That little girl - that little girl had nothing to do with anything in the world.

KASTE: There's still a lot of questions about the days and months leading up to the shooting and the alleged shooter's state of mind. It was already known that Loughner was once arrested for drug possession. But law enforcement sources tell NPR that Loughner had numerous contacts with campus police too, at Pima Community College.

Fellow students complained about his disruptions in classes and in the library, and when he was suspended last September, the college informed his parents that he'd be barred from campus until he could show a letter from a mental health professional attesting that he didn't pose a danger. Sources say his parents met with college officials, but that it was not clear that they'd taken the situation seriously.

Mr. RON ARLT: I think he's very lucid.

KASTE: Walking by the Safeway, Ron Arlt says he doesn't buy the notion that Loughner was insane. He calls the case against him open and shut.

Mr. ARLT: I mean he's guilty. I mean there's no doubt about it. He didn't get away. He was apprehended right here.

KASTE: Arlt is a devout Catholic, as was Federal Judge John Roll, one of the six people killed here. Arlt often saw Roll at church.

Mr. ARLT: I went to Mass today. And I have to say that I know John went to Mass on a daily basis, and I just felt like I was taking his place today.

KASTE: But despite his Catholic faith, Arlt says he wouldn't be upset about Loughner getting the death penalty.

Such is the intensity of feeling against Loughner. His defense attorney has already raised the question of whether he can get a fair trial in Arizona. All the federal judges in Tucson have already recused themselves from the case because of the death of their colleague, Judge Roll. But Loughner attorney Judy Clark yesterday told the court that she has great concern about the case being handled by any Arizona judge.

Coming out of the Walgreens next to the scene of the shooting, Linda Drummond says she, for one, wouldn't mind to see the trial go somewhere else.

Ms. LINDA DRUMMOND: I don't have a problem with that. I mean I'm sure that all of the residents here in Tucson are a little too close to it - like I said, let alone that the federal judge was killed here. I'd like to see it out of our community and I'd like to see things get back to normal.

KASTE: Loughner's next court date is in two weeks, scheduled for the federal courthouse in Phoenix, at least for now.

Martin Kaste, NPR News, Tucson.

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