TUCSON, AZ - A federal court judge has ruled 21-year-old Jared Lee Loughner is not mentally competent to stand trial for the shooting of Rep. Gabrielle Giffords and 18 others in Tucson.
As a result, that judge will likely send Loughner back to a prison hospital for further treatment.
During the Wednesday hearing, Loughner was removed from the courtroom after an outburst, and watched the rest of the proceeding on a TV screen in another room after he said what sounded like: "Thank you for the freak show. She died in front of me."
"I guess he was supposing that Gabrielle Giffords had died in that instant. Many people would have and maybe he reached that conclusion in error and he's not going to let go of that assumption," said Eric Fuller, a victim who attended Wednesday's hearing.
Loughner was later brought back into the courtroom and U.S. District Judge Larry Burns told him he had a right to watch the hearing. Burns asked Loughner if he wanted to view the proceeding from another room.
Loughner responded: "I want to watch the TV screen."
"Surprised. It was a first. Unexpected. It is most rare for anyone to interrupt a federal judge in court, particularly when he is reading a ruling," said attorney David Bodney, who witnessed the outburst in court.
The hospital restoration process is a four to eight month process, according to Kurt Altman, a former assistant U.S. attorney in Phoenix who is not involved in the Loughner case.
The goal is for psychological care to restore the patient to competency in order to stand trial.
"There's a big difference between someone's mental state at the time of the offense and when they stand trial," said Scottsdale-based psychologist Erin Nelson.
Nelson said more often than not patients are restored to competency.
However, Altman said there's still a chance doctors could find that Loughner is unfit and could never improve mentally.
"Let's say that's the ultimate finding...then unfortunately, the case gets dismissed...you cannot proceed under the Constitution to a trial when the defendant is not competent to stand trial," said Altman.
Loughner has pleaded not guilty to 49 federal charges stemming from the Jan. 8 shooting at a meet-and-greet event that wounded Giffords and 12 others and killed six people, including a 9-year-old girl and a federal judge.
Loughner's lawyers haven't said whether they intend to present an insanity defense. But they noted in court filings that his mental condition will likely be a central issue at trial and described him as a "gravely mentally ill man."
Copyright 2011 Scripps Media, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.
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