/ Modified may 25, 2011 2:53 p.m.

Loughner Found Not Competent

Federal judge finds suspect in Tucson's tragic Jan. 8 shooting incompetent to stand trial, putting case on hold

Jared Lee Loughner is not competent to stand trial, according to today's court ruling.

U.S. District Judge Larry Burns found the suspect in Tucson's January 8 shooting--which left six dead and 13 wounded, including U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords--not competent to stand trial or help with his defense against the 49 counts he faces.

That means that 21-year-old Loughner will now be sent to a federal facility for up to four months to undergo psychiatric treatment in an effort to restore his competency.

loughner-port Alleged gunman Jared Lee Loughner faces federal murder and attempted murder charges.
Pima County Sheriff's Department

In his ruling from the bench, Judge Burns cited the reports of a psychiatrist and a psychologist, both of whom said that Loughner is not competent. The two mental health professionals also agreed that he is schizophrenic, one calling him paranoid.

The decision capped a hearing marked by disruption: at one point in the competency hearing, Loughner lowered his head to within inches of a table and said what sounded like, "She died in front of me. You're changing this."

Burns had Loughner removed from the courtroom following the outburst. He was later brought back in again and given a choice between watching the proceedings in the courtroom or on a screen in another room. Loughner chose to watch onscreen in the nearby room.

After a brief recess, Burns issued the ruling.

Loughner's stay at the federal facility will involve treatment to restore him to competency for trial, including medication. The court can involuntarily medicate him if refuses to comply.

The finding of incompetency does not necessarily indicate he won't stand trial or will be able to successfully mount an insanity defense later on. Legal insanity isn't the same as mental illness as defined by psychiatrists and most laypeople, according to Paul Charlton, a Phoenix-based criminal defense attorney and the former U.S. Attorney for Arizona.

Charlton told AZPM earlier this year that to be deemed legally insane, a defendant must show convincing evidence that he or she can't tell the difference between right and wrong--and that's not easy to do.

For instance, legal insanity might involve strangling someone but "believing you're holding on to a carton of milk," Charlton explained.

If Loughner is deemed competent following his four-month stay, the case will resume. If he is again deemed incompetent when the court revisits his case in September, his confinement at the facility can be extended.

The next court hearing is scheduled for Sept. 21.

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