PHOENIX - The mentally ill man charged in the Tucson shooting rampage that killed six people and wounded Representative Gabrielle Giffords and 12 others is not expected to go to trial in 2012 as he continues to be forcibly medicated to make him psychologically fit to stand trial.
The case was put on hold indefinitely when psychologists diagnosed suspect Jared Lee Loughner with schizophrenia and a federal judge ruled the 23-year-old was not fit to stand trial in the shooting that occurred a year ago tomorrow.
Loughner is being treated at a Missouri prison facility, where he has been forcibly medicated for more than five months with psychotropic drugs. Even though psychologists say his condition is improving, his lawyers have vigorously fought the government’s efforts to medicate him.
Mike Black, a former federal defender who is now in private practice as a criminal defense lawyer in Phoenix, says it will take Loughner’s lawyer a long time to prepare for a trial, if Loughner is ever declared mentally fit.
“If he was restored to competency tomorrow, I don’t think there would be a trial until 2013,’’ Black said.
James Cohen, who teaches psychology in criminal law at Fordham University, believes the end result for Loughner will be the same, regardless of whether he goes to trial.
“He will be confined for the rest of his life,’’ Cohen said.
He believes Loughner’s lawyers oppose forced medication because they want him to act bizarrely at trial. It will be hard for a jury to see the depth of Loughner’s psychological troubles if he is placid in the courtroom and appears to be cooperating with his lawyers, Cohen said.
“They think the medications actually disguise what’s going on and that he should be judged on what’s really going on and not based on what the medication created,’’ Cohen said.
Loughner has pleaded not guilty to 49 federal charges stemming from the shooting.
US District Judge Larry Burns has ruled Loughner can eventually be made mentally fit to stand trial. His current stay at the Missouri facility is set to end on Feb. 8 but could be extended.
Loughner’s treating psychologist, Christina Pietz, has said in court that it could take another four months of treatment to make him ready for trial, meaning his stay could be extended until June if she can show the judge that Loughner has made progress but still needs more treatment.
If the judge finds Loughner is ready to stand trial, the criminal case will resume. But if Burns finds there is no likelihood of Loughner being made mentally ready for trial, he can dismiss the charges under a US Supreme Court ruling that stipulates a person can not be indefinitely held for trial.
If the charges are dismissed, it is unlikely Loughner would be released. Instead, state and federal authorities would probably petition to have Loughner civilly committed and seek repeated extensions of his commitment until his death.
Legal specialists say Loughner will have no choice but to use an insanity defense if he does go to trial, because the shooting was captured on video and witnessed by dozens of people.
Loughner’s lawyers have not said whether they intend to present an insanity defense, but noted in court filings that his mental condition will probably be a central issue at trial.