Arizona gunman pleads not guilty

2011-01-25 08:53

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Phoenix - The gunman charged with trying to kill a US lawmaker in a Tucson shooting spree that left six people dead pleaded not guilty on Monday, as authorities mulled holding the trial in the still-shocked city.

Again smiling in court, Jared Lee Loughner - whose haunting mugshot was released shortly after the January 8 attacks - sat quietly as his lawyer said he denied trying to kill congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords and two aides.

Judy Clarke, entering not guilty pleas to the three counts of attempted murder he so far faces, added that she had no objections to the trial being held in Tucson itself, as opposed to the state capital Phoenix.

The 22-year-old, who had posted angry, rambling messages online before the attack, wore glasses and an orange prison jumpsuit, but his hair had grown out since his first time in court, when he appeared with a shaved head.

That first appearance was two days after the attack, in which he allegedly opened fire on Giffords and others at a public meeting outside a local grocery store in the western US state of Arizona.

A federal grand jury indicted Loughner last week on three counts of attempted murder - of Giffords and aides Pam Simon and Ron Barber - but more charges are expected, and he could ultimately face the death penalty.

Mental condition downplayed

Those killed included a 9-year-old girl and an Arizona federal judge, John Roll.

No formal decision has yet been made on where to hold the trial, though Clarke said she would not object to it being in Tucson, adding: "We just have to figure out where Mr Loughner would be housed."

Critics have suggested that Loughner could escape justice because of his mental condition, but his attorney downplayed this prospect, telling judge Larry Burns: "We are not raising the issue of competency at this time."

No members of Loughner's family or victims of the shooting were present for the hearing, which lasted less than 15 minutes.

Another case hearing was scheduled for March 9.

Loughner's attorney Clarke is known for taking on difficult cases, including Unabomber Ted Kaczynski - an anarchist serving life without parole for a 20-year mail bombing spree - and 9/11 conspirator Zacarias Moussaoui.

The trial is being overseen by California federal judge Larry Burns, after all Arizona judges were disqualified because of the risk they could not be impartial, given the killing of one of their colleagues.

Loughner - who has shed no light on possible motives for the horrific attack - was detained at the scene of the shooting, which took place at a "Congress on Your Corner" public event outside a Safeway grocery store.

Attacks trigger debate

Investigators found documents at his home, including an envelope on which was written "Giffords", "My Assassination" and "I planned ahead", as well as what looked like Loughner's signature.

It emerged that he had bought the gun and ammunition used in the attack legally in local stores, and had left rambling and semi-coherent messages online, suggesting he was angry at the government.

The attacks triggered a firestorm of debate over the influence of America's fiercely divided political culture on the attack.

President Barack Obama visited Tucson on January 13 to attend a memorial for the victims, urging Americans to heal their poisonous political divisions to honour the slain schoolgirl, Christina Taylor Green.

The White House announced on Monday that the girl's family will attend President Barack Obama's State of the Union address on Tuesday, along with Daniel Hernandez, the 20-year-old intern who rushed to the aid of Giffords.

Giffords, shot in the head at point-blank range, is making a remarkable recovery, according to doctors, and on Friday she was transferred from Tucson to a hospital in Houston, Texas, to be closer to her family as she begins rehabilitation.

Read more on:    jared loughner  |  barack obama  |  gabrielle giffords  |  us  |  us shootings
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