Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Accused Tucson killer due in court on new charges

Accused Tucson killer due in court on new charges

By Tim Gaynor

TUCSON, Ariz (Reuters) - Tucson shooting rampage suspect Jared Loughner was due to return to federal court on Wednesday to face an expanded 49-count indictment that clears the way for prosecutors to seek the death penalty.

Loughner's arraignment in U.S. District Court in Tucson comes two days after federal prosecutors asked that he be ordered to undergo a psychiatric evaluation to determine whether he is mentally competent to stand trial.

U.S. District Judge Larry Burns has put that request on the agenda for Wednesday's hearing, along with a defense motion seeking to bar prison officials from furnishing the FBI with psychological records about Loughner and reports on his behavior while he is incarcerated.

Burns also has told the two sides to be prepared to discuss a request by news organizations to release search warrant records in the case, now that a new, expanded indictment against Loughner has been unsealed.

Loughner, 22, a college drop-out who investigators said had a history of mental problems, is accused of opening fire on U.S. Representative Gabrielle Giffords and a crowd of bystanders attending a "Congress on Your Corner" event outside a Tucson supermarket on January 8.

Six people were killed and 13 others wounded, including Giffords, who was shot through the head at close range and remains hospitalized at a rehabilitation center in Houston.

Loughner is expected to enter pleas to the 49 charges contained in that 28-page document, including two counts of first-degree murder of a federal employee for the deaths of a judge and an aide to Giffords.

He also is charged with causing the deaths of four others who were "participants at a federally provided activity" when they were gunned down at Giffords' meet-and-greet event.

Those charges as well as additional counts of first-degree murder through the use of a firearm are all capital offenses. The indictment returned last week launched a formal Justice Department review to decide whether to seek the death penalty for Loughner or life in prison.

The latest charges expand on an indictment returned in January accusing Loughner of attempting to assassinate Giffords -- described by authorities as his primary target -- and the attempted murder of two other staff members who were wounded.

Loughner, who remains in federal custody without bail, pleaded not guilty to those charges at his last court appearance in January.

The new indictment incorporates those charges and a criminal complaint filed the day after the shooting which included murder charges for deaths of Judge John Roll, the chief federal judge in Arizona, and Gabe Zimmerman, the Democratic congresswoman's director of community outreach.

Defense attorneys for Loughner have asked that the potential trial date be pushed back to at least January 2013. Burns had suggested the trial get under way by September 20 of this year.

(Editing by Steve Gorman and Greg McCune)

No comments:

Post a Comment