Tucson Suspect Failed Tests Of Mental Competency
RENEE MONTAGNE, host:
The man accused of shooting Arizona Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords and killing six people will not be going on trial any time soon. A federal judge in Tucson ruled yesterday that the accused, Jared Loughner, is not mentally competent to stand trial. He'll now undergo further evaluation.
NPR's Ted Robbins reports that the scene inside the courtroom yesterday was disturbing.
TED ROBBINS: A court-appointed psychiatrist and a psychologist evaluated Jared Loughner's mental state while he was in a federal psychiatric facility in Missouri.
Over a period of five weeks they interviewed him, talked with friends and family and looked at Loughner's papers and videos. In separate reports, they agreed on the diagnosis - Jared Loughner suffers from schizophrenia. He believes his lawyers are in a conspiracy against him, so he cannot assist them with his defense and he cannot rationally understand the legal process. Those are the two tests of competence to stand trial, and federal Judge Larry Burns ruled that Jared Loughner failed them.
At the start of the hearing, the 22-year-old was escorted into the courtroom wearing a tan jumpsuit and shackles on his hands and legs. His brown hair has grown out over his ears and he has a wispy beard and mustache. He didn't grin or smile, as he has before in court. Instead, he sat grimly at the defense table as the judge first heard a motion from lawyer David Bodney, who represents a number of newspapers and TV stations.
Mr. DAVID BODNEY (Attorney): We were there on the one issue about the public's right of access to sheriff's records.
ROBBINS: That discussion went on for more than a half hour, with Loughner growing agitated, rocking in his chair, finally putting his head in his hands. Then, as Judge Burns was ruling on the media's motion, Loughner suddenly screamed: Thank you for the freak show. Some people heard: Thank you for the free shot. It was hard to tell. The next sentence though was clear: She died in front of me. It wasn't clear who he was talking about. Then he yelled either: You're treasonous, or: You're changing it. By that time a half-dozen U.S. marshals had a hold of Loughner and dragged him out of the courtroom.
David Bodney said he's never seen anything like it.
Mr. BODNEY: It was a first, unexpected. It is most rare for anyone to interrupt a federal judge in court, particularly when he is reading a ruling.
ROBBINS: Judge Burns called a 10-minute recess. People in the courtroom calmed down and apparently so did Loughner. When court resumed, marshals brought him back in. The judge asked whether he could be quiet and behave or whether he'd prefer to watch the hearing on a TV screen in a holding area. Quietly this time, Loughner said: I want to watch the TV screen. He was escorted out.
Judge Burns then summarized the two reports, saying Loughner gives irrational, incoherent answers to straightforward questions. He can't keep on task when he's given behavioral tests. He has hallucinations. And both reports agreed he's not faking it. In fact, he denies being mentally ill. The judge read that there's evidence Loughner's been ill for two years. At that, a reporter sitting near Loughner's father Randy said he heard the father sob.
Neither the prosecution nor the defense disagreed with the assessment, so Judge Burns ordered Loughner sent back to the facility in Missouri for a maximum of four months. The idea is to treat him with medication and therapy to restore him to competency. If he refuses treatment, the law says he can be forced to take medication, but that requires another hearing.
A number of victims and witnesses to the January 8 shooting were in the courtroom. They were led out for a victims' debriefing. Ross Zimmerman wasn't there but he thinks the judge made the right decision. His son Gabe, an aide to Gabby Giffords, was killed on January 8.
Mr. ROSS ZIMMERMAN: I mean the real underlying concern here is that this is a dangerous individual. How do we handle the situation so that he is not allowed to be a danger in the future to himself and others? It's not a question of vengeance.
ROBBINS: Judge Burns scheduled the next hearing to evaluate Jared Loughner's mental state for September.
Ted Robbins, NPR News, Tucson.
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