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Loughner should stay in Tucson prison, attorney tells court

October 6, 2011 |  5:13 pm



Tucson shooting suspect Jared Lee Loughner's mental condition has improved since his transfer back to Arizona for legal proceedings and he should be allowed to stay there, his attorney told a federal appeals court panel Thursday.

Loughner, 23, is fighting a court order issued by a federal judge last week that he can be committed to a prison mental hospital in Springfield, Mo., for another four months in an effort to restore his competency to stand trial. He faces 49 felony charges related to a January shooting rampage that killed six people and wounded 13 others, including Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-Ariz.).

He was ruled incompetent to assist in his own defense after an evaluation at the Missouri prison hospital. Doctors diagnosed him with schizophrenia and delusions.

How and where to treat Loughner has been in dispute since U.S. District Judge Larry A. Burns in May ordered him committed. Loughner's lawyers have objected to his forced treatment with anti-psychotic drugs, arguing that as a pretrial detainee he has the legal right to refuse medication he fears could harm or kill him.

Loughner’s condition has improved noticeably while in a Tucson prison, where his parents and other family members have been able to visit him, defense attorney Ellis M. Johnston III told the emergency motions panel of the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals.

Assistant U.S. Atty. Christina M. Cabanillas said that the government opposed keeping Loughner in Arizona and that the constant oversight he requires puts a heavy burden on the U.S. Marshals Service, which provides security at the Tucson prison.

"There is an abundance of evidence demonstrating that the medication the defendant is on is assisting him, not hurting him," Cabanillas said.

At least two of the judges indicated they agreed with her. The panel didn’t indicate when it would rule, but a decision is expected within weeks.


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Photo: Jared Lee Loughner in a courtroom sketch from last week's hearing in Tucson. Credit: Bill Robles / Associated Press