News24

Arizona survivors attend Loughner hearing

2011-03-10 10:00

Tucson - Survivors of the Tucson, Arizona shooting rampage came face-to-face with the suspect on Wednesday for the first time since they were shot at a voter event hosted by Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords two months ago.

At least three victims attended Jared Lee Loughner's court hearing, creating a tense showdown as the smiling suspect entered the room in handcuffs. Susan Hileman stared at Loughner intently from a wheelchair, and placed her hands to her face as he walked into the room.

Two other survivors - retired Army Colonel Bill Badger and Mavanell "Mavy" Stoddard - attended the hearing and sat on the opposite side of the courtroom as the 22-year-old Loughner, whose once-shaved head featured short, dark hair and sideburns.

Two US marshals stood just feet behind Loughner throughout the hearing.

The suspect's father, Randy Loughner, also made his first appearance in the gallery during his son's criminal case. Dressed in a pressed charcoal-coloured shirt and blue jeans, the father with bushy salt-and-pepper hair sat three rows behind his son, his arms folded.

Randy Loughner kept his eyes fixed on the floor and wall, glancing up only a few times to see the court action. After the hearing, he rushed out of the courtroom without acknowledging reporters asking him for comment.

Loughner made one brief comment, at the beginning of the hearing. The judge asked the 22-year-old if Jared Loughner was his name. "Yes, it is," Loughner responded as he stood behind the defence table.

Loughner then pleaded not guilty to dozens of federal charges, including trying to assassinate Giffords, attempting to kill two of her aides, and murdering federal judge John Roll and Giffords staffer Gabe Zimmerman.

Likely to face state charges

The hearing took place in the same courthouse where Roll worked before he was killed in the tragedy.

Loughner also is charged with causing the deaths of four others who weren't federal employees, causing injury and death to participants at a "federally provided activity" and using a gun in a crime of violence.

He likely will also face state charges stemming from the attack outside a Tucson grocery store.

Hileman, Badger and Stoddard were among those wounded at the meet-and-greet event held by Giffords, who is now at a Houston hospital and undergoing rigorous therapy to recover from a gunshot wound to the head.

Hileman, aged 58, was holding 9-year-old Christina Taylor-Green's hand when the shooting erupted. The woman was shot three times; Christina was killed.

Badger, aged 74, is credited with helping to subdue Loughner at the scene after a bullet grazed the back of Badger's head.

Stoddard, aged 75, was shot in the leg three times. Her husband, Dorwin, dove to the ground and covered her. He was shot in the head and died at the scene.

Also Wednesday, US District Judge Larry Burns decided search warrants from Loughner's home should be made public. He also scheduled a May 25 hearing to determine if Loughner is competent to stand trial.

Mental competency

The search warrants contained details about the items found by investigators at the suspect's home, including two shotguns, ammunition and drawings of weapons.

The warrants say police also seized a printout of the US Constitution, a journal, a notebook with writing, poems, song lyrics and a handwritten note that read: "What is government if words don't have a meaning?"

The judge expressed concern about Loughner's mental competency and whether the defendant understands the court proceedings.

Prosecutors had asked Burns to commit Loughner to a federal facility where he could be evaluated by psychologists to determine whether he suffers from a mental defect that makes him incompetent to stand trial.

Loughner attorney Judy Clarke asked that the judge confront the issue of her client's competency at a later date, arguing the request for a mental evaluation was premature.

She said she was concerned a psychological evaluation would interfere with her ability to work with and develop trust with Loughner.

But prosecutor Wallace Kleindienst said federal law allows prosecutors to request mental evaluations for defendants.

"We have a person who was irrationally obsessed with Congresswoman Giffords," Kleindienst said, adding Loughner distrusts the government and judges and believed the FBI and CIA were bugging him.

It wasn't decided where the psychological exam would take place.