Suspect Jared Lee Loughner will be prosecuted in federal court before state… (Pima County Sheriff's Department )
Tucson shooting suspect Jared Lee Loughner will be tried first in federal court in the shooting of Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-Ariz.) and two staff members before he faces prosecution for most of the six deaths and 13 injuries inflicted during the rampage, authorities in Arizona said Friday.
Loughner, 22, faces one charge of attempted assassination and two of attempted murder and will likely face additional indictments in the death of a federal judge and another federal employee, charges that could carry the death penalty, a spokesman for the U.S. attorney's office in Arizona said. But state prosecution of Loughner must wait until the federal cases are complete.
Loughner was arrested at the scene of the deadly Jan. 8 attack outside a Tucson supermarket where Giffords had been meeting with constituents. He was indicted last month on only the three attempted-murder charges so that prosecutors could meet a 30-day deadline for indicting or releasing a suspect, said Robbie Sherwood of the U.S. attorney's office in Phoenix.
A not-guilty plea was entered for Loughner on Jan. 24.
"The U.S. attorney is still investigating into the more serious charges," said Sherwood, explaining that charges that can carry a death penalty must go through a time-consuming capital crimes review process within the Justice Department and must be approved by U.S. Atty. Gen. Eric H. Holder Jr. Federal officials hope to have those charges ready in time to consolidate them with the current case.
On Thursday, the office of Dennis K. Burke, U.S. attorney in Arizona, asked U.S. District Judge Larry A. Burns of San Diego, who is presiding over the case, to order Loughner to provide handwriting samples to the government for comparison with documents found in a search of his home after the shootings. Prosecutors plan to introduce the seized notebooks and writings at trial. The court filing said the documents made reference to Giffords and assassination plans, as well as to guns and bullets.
Among those killed in the Tucson attack were the head of Arizona's federal judiciary, U.S. District Judge John M. Roll, and Giffords aide Gabriel Zimmerman, both government employees whose deaths can result in capital charges if they were killed while "engaged in or on account of the performance of official duties."
Roll had been working with Giffords to get congressional attention on Arizona's overwhelmed federal courts, and had reportedly stopped by her political rally to thank her for pressing the issue with legislative and judicial authorities.
Two weeks after the shootings, federal judges declared a judicial emergency in Arizona, easing time constraints for bringing criminal suspects to trial. Loughner's trial won't be affected by the emergency declaration as long as he remains in custody, Sherwood said, although other pretrial procedures could delay its start for months beyond the statutory 70-day deadline.
The decision that state prosecution of Loughner would be put off until the federal cases are concluded was is required by federal law, Burke and Pima County Attorney Barbara LaWall said in a joint statement.
If federal and state authorities attempted to try Loughner at the same time, they could run into scheduling conflicts and complications in the transfer of custody between the U.S. Marshals Service and Pima County jailers, potentially violating laws protecting criminal defendants and undermining both cases.
"These cases will be tried in sequence and will ensure that all rights of the victims and their families are vindicated," Burke and LaWall said, noting that Loughner will remain in the U.S. Marshals' custody until the federal procedures are concluded.