PHOENIX — The judge overseeing the deadly Tucson mass shooting case scheduled competency and change of plea hearings for defendant Jared Lee Loughner on Monday, a move that confirms a plea agreement has been reached in the shooting that left six dead and former representative Gabrielle Giffords and 12 others wounded.
Before Loughner can enter the plea, US District Judge Larry A. Burns must determine whether Loughner is competent and understands what is happening. The hearings are set for Tuesday in Tucson.
Loughner has spent more than a year in a federal medical facility in Missouri being treated for mental illness.
Loughner had pleaded not guilty to 49 federal counts stemming from the Jan. 8, 2011, shooting outside a Tucson supermarket where Giffords was holding a meet-and-greet with constituents.
Burns had ruled that Loughner wasn’t fit to stand trial, but that he could be made ready for trial after treatment. Specialists have concluded that Loughner suffers from schizophrenia.
A person familiar with the case said Saturday that a court-appointed psychiatrist is to testify that Loughner is competent to enter a plea. The person, who was not authorized to discuss the case publicly and spoke on condition of anonymity, said the plea agreement would give Loughner a life sentence, taking the death penalty off the table in the federal case.
The top prosecutor in southern Arizona’s Pima County said last year that she was considering state charges that could carry the death penalty.
The state prosecution has been suspended while the federal case went forward, and County Attorney Barbara LaWall was not available for comment on Monday.