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Loughner lawyer pleads for him to stay at Arizona prison

An attorney for Tucson shooting suspect Jared Lee Loughner urges an appellate panel to let him stay near his family rather than return to a Missouri prison hospital.

October 06, 2011|By Carol J. Williams, Los Angeles Times
  • A sketch of a courtroom appearance by Jared Lee Loughner, the suspect in the January shooting rampage in Tucson. One of his attorneys argued Thursday against Loughner being returned to a medical prison in Missouri, where he was being treated with anti-psychotic medication against his will.
A sketch of a courtroom appearance by Jared Lee Loughner, the suspect in… (Bill Robles / Associated…)

A lawyer for Tucson shooting suspect Jared Lee Loughner urged a federal appellate panel Thursday to allow him to remain at a federal lockup near his family in Arizona rather than return him to a prison hospital in Missouri, where he has been treated against his will with anti-psychotic drugs.

Loughner's rights to refuse unwanted commitment and medication were being violated at the Missouri facility, defense attorney Ellis M. Johnston III said. Loughner can get any necessary sedation at the federal prison in Tucson, where he remains under suicide watch, Johnston said.

Loughner, 23, has been ruled incompetent to stand trial for the January shooting rampage that killed six people and wounded 13, including Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-Ariz.). He was transferred to Tucson more than a week ago to attend a court hearing on whether his initial court-ordered commitment at the Missouri hospital should be extended.

Photos: Gabrielle Giffords shooting

At that hearing, U.S. District Judge Larry A. Burns agreed to extend the commitment another four months. That prompted defense attorneys to argue that Loughner, as a pretrial detainee not convicted of any crime, can't legally be forced into treatment he doesn't want.

The emergency motions panel of the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals heard the arguments in an unusual teleconference one day after the judges agreed to temporarily halt Loughner's return to the Medical Center for Federal Prisoners in Springfield, Mo.

Assistant U.S. Atty. Christina M. Cabanillas told the three-judge panel 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.

Johnston told the court that Loughner's condition had improved noticeably in Tucson, where his parents and other family had been able to visit him.

How and where to treat Loughner, who has been diagnosed with schizophrenia, has been fiercely litigated since May, when Burns deemed him incompetent to assist in his defense and ordered him to the prison hospital for treatment aimed at making him fit for trial.

Loughner faces 49 felony charges in the shootings at Giffords' meet-the-public event outside a Tucson supermarket.

Johnston said one of Loughner's doctors at the Missouri hospital had assured Burns that relocating him to Tucson for last week's hearing would be "most therapeutic," because it allowed him to see his parents. It also made for more frequent contact with his San Diego-based attorneys, Johnston said.

But Cabanillas argued that blocking Loughner's return to the specialized medical facility was interfering with psychiatrists' efforts to restore his mental health, and at least two of the three judges seemed to agree.

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

The judges promised to deal with the case swiftly but didn't indicate when they would rule. They told the attorneys they may request more detail about the expected side effects of Loughner's medication, suggesting that their decision probably would come in mid-October.

Photos: Gabrielle Giffords shooting

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