TUCSON, Ariz. – A federal judge ruled Jared Lee Loughner mentally incompetent to stand trial in the Jan. 8 shooting spree that gravely wounded an Arizona congresswoman after two medical experts agreed he suffered from schizophrenia and for several years has been troubled by delusions and hallucinations.
Judge Larry A. Burns sent Loughner back to the federal medical center for prisoners in Springfield, Mo., for treatment and further evaluation, stopping for now any attempt to take him to trial for the shooting that killed six and injured 12 others at Rep. Gabrielle Giffords’ neighborhood meeting.
Without any change in his condition, Loughner could spend the rest of his life in federal mental health facilities. But if he shows some signs of improvement, his case could go forward.
Two psychiatric examiners made it clear in their reports that any improvement may be far away, if possible at all.
The ruling came after U.S. marshals physically removed Loughner from the courtroom Wednesday when he suddenly started screaming. His father, Randy Loughner, sat in the second row next to Loughner’s mother and cried almost the entire time.
Court staff variously reported him saying “thank you for the free kill” or “free shot,” and then, “she died in front of me,” and “you’re treasonous.” A government source said Loughner is convinced he killed Giffords.
Unlike the previous mug shot image of the 22-year-old man with wild eyes and bald head, on Wednesday Loughner appeared in court with his eyes closed, in a heavy and disheveled mop of dark brown hair, long sideburns and a wisp of a goatee. He wore a prison khaki jumper, blue loafers and manacles on his wrists.
Giffords, who was shot in the head, last week underwent surgery to replace a section of her skull that was initially surgically removed to relieve pressure. She was able to attend the launch of the space shuttle Endeavor last week, which is commanded by her husband, Navy. Capt. Mark E. Kelly.
On Tuesday the 40-year-old Democratic congresswoman returned to a rehabilitation hospital in Texas, and continued her intensive care therapy. Her new goal is to be upgraded to outpatient care.