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Loughner Pleads 'Not Guilty' In Court

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Host Melissa Block talks with NPR's Ted Robbins, who was at Wednesday's federal court proceeding for Jared Loughner. Loughner is the suspect in the January shooting that that killed six and injured Representative Gabrielle Giffords.

MELISSA BLOCK, host:

You're listening to ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News.

To Tucson now, where Jared Loughner was in court today. He pleaded not guilty to 49 charges stemming from the January shooting rampage in Tucson. Six people were killed and 13 wounded, including Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords.

NPR's Ted Robbins was at today's hearing. He joins us from outside federal court.

And, Ted, why don't you walk us through what happened during today's proceeding?

TED ROBBINS: Hi, Melissa. The - these are expected - well, the prosecution said. These will be all of the charges against Loughner; the superseding indictment takes the place of all the others. And they include the murders of six people, as you pointed out, including Federal Judge John Roll and the wounding of the 13 other people, including Congresswoman Gifford, and a variety of other lesser charges.

Jared Loughner came in shackled. His hair is short still, but it's growing out. He's got long sideburns. So he looks somewhat different from that now-famous picture of him. The judge granted...

BLOCK: After the shootings, yeah, the mug shot.

ROBBINS: The judge granted a motion on behalf of the news media to unseal most of the search warrant material. And then he ordered a psychiatric evaluation and set a competency hearing for May 25th.

BLOCK: Let's talk about that psychiatric evaluation. What did the lawyers and the judge have to say about that?

ROBBINS: Yeah. I have to say, to me, this was the most interesting part of it. The defense objected; his lawyer, Judy Clarke, to the prosecution's motion for a psych evaluation, because she said it might disrupt her growing relationship with Loughner. But the judge granted it, saying that he had reasonable cause to believe - and I'm more or less quoting now - that Loughner suffers from mental defects so that he cannot - the question is whether he can or cannot understand the nature and consequences of the proceeding against him.

Now, Loughner smiled at times. He raised his eyebrows and nodded when the judge mentioned evidence that Loughner thought the government was out to get him, and he had fixated on Giffords, but others were out to get him. And the judge actually said that he, the judge, had been noticing Loughner's affect. His emotional expression and body language in the courtroom is inappropriate.

So once the judge ordered the evaluation, which will either be here in Tucson or San Diego, where Judy Clarke lives, then everything else stop right there. There were no other motions until it's determined whether or not Loughner is mentally competent.

BLOCK: And, Ted, this was Loughner's first court appearance in Tucson. Before, they were in Phoenix. And the location today is significant. This is the courthouse where the federal judge, whom you mentioned, John Roll, worked. He was killed, as you said, in January's attack.

ROBBINS: Yeah. He presided at this courthouse. It was tense. It was emotional. There were a lot of court personnel in there. Several of the victims were there, including Susan Hileman who had brought Christina-Taylor Green, the 9-year-old girl. And Ms. Hileman was wounded. She was in a wheelchair.

I said to her, I can't imagine how tough this must be. And she said, neither can I. I still can't completely grasp what happened.

So it was an emotional setting in the courtroom.

BLOCK: OK. NPR's Ted Robbins in Tucson, where Jared Loughner today pleaded not guilty to 49 charges stemming from that shooting spree in Tucson.

Ted, thanks very much.

ROBBINS: You're welcome.

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