SAN DIEGO - A federal judge ruled yesterday that the suspect in the Tucson shooting rampage that wounded former Representative Gabrielle Giffords will spend four more months at a federal prison facility where officials are forcibly medicating him.
US District Court Judge Larry Burns noted that Jared Lee Loughner has made marked improvement at the facility in Springfield, Mo., where he has participated in group therapy with other inmates and at times had coherent speech and steady eye contact with others.
“That in and of itself is a signal of measurable progress,’’ Burns said, adding that when he first saw the suspect in court, “there was no way’’ he could have done that.
Mental health experts have determined that Loughner, 23, suffers from schizophrenia and are trying to make him fit to stand trial.
He has pleaded not guilty to 49 charges stemming from the Jan. 8, 2011, attack in Tucson that killed six people and injured 12 others, including Giffords, who resigned from Congress last month to focus on recovering from being shot in the head.
Loughner’s attorneys have vigorously fought the government’s efforts to medicate him with psychotropic drugs, although they did not object to the judge’s decision yesterday. Attorney Judy Clarke declined to comment after the hearing.
Since his arrest, Loughner has demonstrated bizarre behavior. He was removed from a May 25 court hearing after lowering his head to within inches of the courtroom table before lifting it and unleashing an angry rant.
Loughner has been at the Missouri facility since May 28.
His federal psychologist, Dr. Christina Pietz, said he still does not fully understand the nature and gravity of the charges against him, but she believes he will continue to improve.
Burns ordered officials at the facility to immediately call him if Loughner becomes competent at any time during the next four months. The suspect’s psychologist is also required to give the court an update on his status no later than May 24.
Burns said he would review the status report before scheduling the next hearing.