SAN DIEGO — A federal judge is set to determine whether the suspect in the Tucson shooting rampage that killed six people and wounded several others, including then-U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, should remain at a federal prison facility where officials are forcibly medicating him.
U.S. District Court Judge Larry Burns said in his court filing that he is inclined to extend the suspect's stay after learning the chief federal psychologist of Jared Lee Loughner believes the 23-year-old is still not competent to stand trial.
He said that the psychologist noted, however, that his mental state has made "measurable progress" during the roughly six months he has been at the facility in Springfield, Mo., and she believes he will continue to improve.
Loughner has pleaded not guilty to 49 charges stemming from the Jan. 8, 2011, shooting in Tucson that killed six people and injured Giffords and 12 others. Giffords resigned from Congress last month to focus on her recovery after being shot in the head.
Loughner's federal psychologist, Dr. Christina Pietz, believes he "still lacks an adequate understanding of the nature and consequences of the charges against him," but given the fact he is making progress toward competency, the court is inclined to extend Loughner's stay by another four months beyond Feb. 8 when he was originally expected to be released, Burns said in his filing.
Loughner has demonstrated bizarre behavior since his arrest. He was removed from a May 25 court hearing when he lowered his head to within inches of the courtroom table then lifted his head and began a loud and angry rant.
Mental health experts have determined Loughner suffers from schizophrenia and are trying to make him fit to stand trial. Loughner has been at the Missouri facility since May 28, and his attorneys have vigorously fought the government's efforts to medicate him with psychotropic drugs.
An appeals court temporarily halted Loughner's forced medication last summer, but the medication resumed once mental health experts at the prison concluded that his condition was deteriorating further.
After a Sept. 28 court hearing, Burns extended Loughner's detention in Missouri by another four months.
In his court filing, Burns pointed out that the government originally requested an eight-month extension. If the attorneys for both sides agree, the court will accept a joint motion for the extension. If they do not agree, the court will hear objections and if necessary schedule another hearing on the matter, Burns said.
The judge also said that Loughner shouldn't be transported from Missouri for Monday's hearing.
A call to Loughner's lead attorney, Judy Clarke, for comment wasn't immediately returned.
Tucson-based prosecutors said in a filing late Thursday that they had "no additional evidence to offer" and asked the court to proceed with extending the stay.