The man accused of wounding Rep. Gabrielle Giffords and killing six in a shooting rampage in Arizona is mentally incompetent to stand trial, a judge ruled Wednesday after two deputy U.S. marshals dragged the man out of the courtroom because of an angry outburst.
As survivors of the deadly January attack looked on, Jared Lee Loughner lowered his head, raised it and said what sounded like “Thank you for the freak show. She died in front of me.” His words were loud but indistinct, and it wasn’t clear who he was talking about. He wore a khaki prison suit and sported bushy, reddish sideburns.
U.S. District Judge Larry Burns’ decision means the 22-year-old will be sent to back to a federal facility in Missouri for up to four months, where doctors will try to medicate him to see if they can restore his competency to a point where he understands the case against him.
The ruling came after Burns said two mental health professionals had concluded Loughner suffers from schizophrenia and is mentally unfit for trial.
Loughner spent five weeks in March and April at a federal facility in Springfield, Mo., where he was examined by psychologist Christina Pietz and psychiatrist Matthew Carroll. The two were asked to determine if Loughner understands the consequences of the case against him.
Burns viewed 18 hours of the experts’ videotaped interviews with Loughner. He said the experts’ reports and videos were confidential, but he summarized their findings at the hearing.
The judge said Carroll concluded Loughner’s mental health has declined in the past two or three years and his thinking on legal issues is confused. Carroll believes Loughner doesn’t grasp the gravity of the charges against him and is instead fixated on inconsequential issues.
Pietz concluded Loughner’s thoughts are random and that he suffers from delusions, the judge said. She noted Loughner gave nonsensical answers to questions and doesn’t understand the role of judges or jurors.
Neither expert thought Loughner was faking his mental health problems, with Carroll saying Loughner doesn’t want to be perceived as mentally ill. A hearing to revisit Loughner’s mental competency is set for Sept. 21.
Loughner has pleaded not guilty to 49 federal charges stemming from the Jan. 8 shooting at a meet-and-greet event that wounded Giffords and 12 others and killed six people, including a 9-year-old girl and a federal judge.
Loughner was calm at the beginning of Wednesday’s hearing, tilting his head and swaying back in forth as he watched the attorneys argue in the packed courtroom.
Later, he lowered his head to within inches of the table in front of him, then lifted it and began to speak, interrupting the proceedings. His words were loud but difficult to make out. Some reporters also heard him say what sounded like “You’re treasonous.” The AP has asked the court clerk’s office for an official transcript and recording of the hearing.
Following the outburst, two marshals standing behind Loughner’s chair grabbed him by each arm and led him from the courtroom. Loughner’s father, sitting a few rows behind him, lowered his eyes and huddled with two women.
Shortly after Loughner was led away, the judge told the attorneys the suspect was entitled to be in the courtroom as long as he composed himself. “I don’t want him to act up or speak out,” Burns said.
After a 10-minute recess, the marshals said Loughner had calmed down. They then brought him back into the courtroom, and the judge asked Loughner if he wanted to stay and behave, or view the hearing on a TV screen in another room.
“I want to watch the TV screen,” Loughner said, the two marshals tightly gripping his arms.
At least three survivors of the Tucson attack attended the hearing: Giffords aide Pam Simon, who was shot in the chest and right wrist; Eric Fuller, who was shot in the knee and the back; and retired Army Col. Bill Badger, who is credited with helping subdue Loughner after a bullet grazed the back of Badger’s head.
Fuller said he is comfortable with the judge’s incompetency decision and wouldn’t be bothered if Loughner spends the rest of his life in a mental health facility.
“You don’t have to be a psychiatrist to know that the boy is disturbed,” Fuller said.
Prosecutors had requested the mental exam, citing a YouTube video in which they believe a hooded Loughner wore garbage bags and burned an American flag.
The judge gave the two experts access to Loughner’s health records from his pediatrician, a behavioral health hospital that treated him for extreme intoxication in May 2006 and an urgent care center where he was treated in 2004 for unknown reasons.
Prosecutor Wallace Kleindienst said that in the next few days, Loughner will be sent back to the Missouri facility where he underwent five weeks of mental competency testing.
Loughner will stay at the facility for up to four months, and doctors will seek to medicate him to see if he improves, Kleindienst said. He added he didn’t know if Loughner would agree to be medicated.
If Loughner is later determined to be competent enough to understand the case against him, the court proceedings will resume.
If he isn’t deemed competent at the end of his treatment, Loughner’s stay at the facility can be extended. There are no limits on the number of times such extensions can be granted.
If doctors conclude they can’t restore Loughner’s mental competency, the judge must make another decision. If he finds there’s no likelihood of Loughner being restored to competency, he can dismiss the charges against Loughner. In that case, state and federal authorities can petition to have Loughner civilly committed and could seek to extend that commitment repeatedly, said Heather Williams, a federal public defender in Tucson who isn’t involved in the Loughner case.
Loughner’s lawyers haven’t said whether they intend to present an insanity defense. But they noted in court filings that his mental condition will likely be a central issue at trial and described him as a “gravely mentally ill man.”
Giffords spokesman C.J. Karamargin declined to comment on Wednesday’s ruling and wasn’t sure if Giffords would be notified. “We’ve never commented on Loughner’s legal case,” he said. “There’s no reason to start now.”
Giffords’ astronaut husband Mark Kelly is in space on NASA’s next-to-last shuttle flight. Asked about whether Kelly would be told of the judge’s decision, Karamargin said: “I don’t know. My guess is he’s of course in constant communication with Earth, so I imagine he will be told.”
Associated Press writer Mark Carlson in Phoenix contributed to this report.