Jared Lee Loughner is set to plead guilty Tuesday in the shooting attack that severely wounded Rep. Gabrielle Giffords as mental health officials believe he is now competent to understand the charges against him in the assault, which killed six people and injured 13 at a gathering with the congresswoman’s constituents in Tucson, Los Angeles Times forst reported.
The federal judge handling the case had scheduled a status hearing in Tucson for Tuesday to get an update from prison doctors treating Jared Loughner, who’s been undergoing mental health treatment in a Bureau of Prisons hospital since shortly after the shooting.
A court-appointed psychiatrist will testify on Tuesday that Loughner is fit to stand trial. According to The Huff Post, Loughner’s guilty plea would result in a sentence of life in prison.
Acceptance of a plea from Loughner will not be automatic as under federal court rules, the judge must be satisfied that a guilty plea is “knowing and voluntary.” NBC writes that it will require the judge to ask Loughner a series of questions in open court to make certain that he has the capacity to understand what a guilty plea means, including the fact that he gives up all his appeal rights.
Among those killed in the resuil of shooting were 9-year-old Christina-Taylor Green, born on Sept. 11, 2001, and U.S. District Judge John M. Roll, the presiding federal judge in Tucson. Giffords, though seriously wounded in the head, has slowly been recovering. The Democrat has since resigned from Congress.
The shooting has ignited a debate about gun laws in Arizona and across the nation. Critics say that Loughner, who had two previous offenses and a history of unusual behavior, should never have been able to purchase a gun.
At first capital punishment was on the table when federal prosecutors in Tucson obtained a grand jury indictment against Loughner, and they announced the case as one with “potential death penalty charges.”
According to the indictment, a search of Loughner’s home turned up a letter hidden in a safe in which Giffords thanked him for attending an earlier Congress On Your Corner event. Also in the safe was an envelope with handwriting that said, “I planned ahead” and “My assassination” and Giffords’ name, “along with what appears to be Loughner’s signature,” the indictment said.
However, soon after his arrest, the focus immediately turned to whether he was mentally fit to stand trial.
Loughner is currently receiving medical treatment for mental illnesses at a U.S. Bureau of Prisons facility, where he will remain until a judge decides he is fit to stand trial.
Giffords spent more than a year in Houston undergoing intensive physical and speech therapy in a recovery that doctors and family have called miraculous. But she was unable to fully return to Congress and resigned in January this year.
Ron Barber, a Giffords staffer who survived two gunshot wounds in the Tucson attack, won her seat in a special election in June.