by Jim Nintzel
But the most distinguishing feature of the 22-year-old man who stands accused of killing six people and wounding another 13 in a January shooting rampage was the smirk that remained on his face throughout the afternoon court hearing.
Loughner pleaded not guilty to 49 federal counts stemming from the Jan. 8 attack on Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords and those who had gathered to see her at a Congress on Your Corner event.
Giffords survived being shot in the head at close range and is undergoing rehabilitation at a Houston facility.
Loughner’s only words during the hearing—“Yes, it is,” in response to the question of whether his name was Jared Lee Loughner—were said in a buoyant tone.
U.S. District Court Judge Larry Burns granted a prosecution motion to force Loughner to undergo a psychological evaluation to determine if he is competent to stand trial.
Defense attorney Judy Clarke argued that such an evaluation was “premature” and could interfere with her efforts to “develop a relationship of trust” with Loughner.
But Assistant U.S. Attorney Wallace Kleindienst expressed concern that if the defense team raised issues in the future about Loughner’s ability to understand the charges he faces, “all of these proceedings are for naught.”
As Kleindienst outlined Loughner’s signs of mental illness—including his YouTube videos and his evident belief that government agencies have him under surveillance—Loughner became expressive, nodding vigorously, raising his eyebrows and grinning broadly.
Burns left it for the lawyers to sort out where and when mental-health experts would evaluate Loughner, but set a date for the competency hearing on May 25.
The review might take place in Tucson, where Loughner is being held at a maximum-security federal prison, or in San Diego, where Clarke resides.
Given that Burns had approved the prosecution’s motion for the competency review, Clarke asked that other proceedings in the case be put off until Loughner’s ability to stand trial was resolved. Burns granted her request.
Earlier in the hearing, he granted a motion by attorney David Bodney on behalf of media organizations to release search warrants related to the case, with some minor redaction.
Loughner could face the death penalty if convicted of the charges against him, which include killing U.S. District Judge John M. Roll, Gabe Zimmerman, Dorothy J. Morris, Phyllis C. Schneck, Dorwan C. Stoddard and Christina-Taylor Green.