The man accused of wounding Rep. Gabrielle Giffords in a deadly shooting rampage can eventually be made mentally fit to stand trial, a federal judge ruled Wednesday in ordering that Jared Lee Loughner's detention be extended for four more months.
U.S. District Judge Larry Burns said "measurable progress has been made" in restoring Loughner to the point where he could assist in his defense. Loughner has been at a prison facility in Missouri the last four months after Burns found him mentally unfit for trial.
Experts have concluded Loughner suffers from schizophrenia, and prosecutors contend Loughner can be made competent with more mental health treatment. But Loughner's attorneys argue prosecutors have failed to prove that it's probable his condition will improve enough.
Loughner listened intently and quietly at Wednesday's hearing. Burns noted the suspect's smirk was gone and that for once he's paying attention to the proceedings.
"There's reason to be optimistic he will recover and be able to assist in his case," he said.
Loughner has pleaded not guilty to 49 charges stemming from the Jan. 8 shooting that killed six and wounded 13, including Giffords.
Earlier Wednesday, a psychologist testified that Loughner has improved to where he understands that he killed people and feels remorse about it, and can be made competent to stand trial within eight months.
Loughner is still delusional but has made strides during the past four months at the Springfield, Mo., facility, Dr. Christina Pietz said.
When he first arrived at the facility, Loughner was convinced Giffords was dead, even though he was shown a video of the shooting.
"He believed it had been edited" by law enforcement, Pietz said.
Now that the 23-year-old is being forcibly medicated with psychotropic drugs, "he knows that she (Giffords) is alive."
"He is less obsessed with that," Pietz testified. "He understands that he has murdered people. He talks about it. He talks about how remorseful he is."