Jared Lee Loughner, the man accused of carrying out a shooting rampage outside a Tucson, Ariz., supermarket made his second appearance before a U.S. District Judge on Wednesday. The last time he saw Judge Larry Burns it was back in late January inside the federal courthouse in Phoenix. However, today’s arraignment was in a packed Tucson courtroom, just a few miles from where he allegedly opened fire on a group of people attending a “Congress On Your Corner” event, where Arizona Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords was meeting with her constituents.
The court proceedings were moved from Phoenix so the victims and their family members (most of whom live in Tucson) wouldn’t have to make a nearly four hour round-trip drive just to experience future hearings and the trial itself. Today’s hearing was evident of this decision, as several of the victims, some of them still in wheelchairs because of their injuries, saw Loughner for the first time since they say he shot them back on January 8th. Many of them did not want to speak with reporters as they were ushered into the courtroom, although the attorney representing the family of U.S. District Judge John Roll, the federal judge who was shot and killed that day, did make a brief statement after the proceedings. He said the Roll family is extremely strong, that this is obviously an emotional time for them but they just have to let the court process play out.
The 22-year-old was led into the courtroom Wednesday with shackles around his wrists and ankles, wearing a beige prison jumpsuit. His hair has grown out quite a bit and he wasn’t wearing glasses this time. Television producers say Loughner was “grinning” while the charges were read against him, and court sketches revealed the same thing since cameras are not allowed inside Arizona courtrooms. Loughner’s father was also present and reporters say he kept his head down and eyes closed during much of the dialogue between the prosecution, defense and judge.
There was much discussion Wednesday over whether Loughner is competent to stand trial and whether he fully understands the charges being brought against him because of his mental state. Judge Burns agreed with the prosecution saying Loughner needs to be evaluated by a psychiatrist to try and make that determination. A competency hearing has now been scheduled for later in May. Burns has said in previous court records that he’d like the trial to begin by the end of September. The U.S. Department of Justice has still not decided whether the death penalty will be sought in this case.