One recent day in a federal prison hospital, accused Tucson gunman Jared Loughner refused to drink milk with lunch. Another day, prison staff noted, he stayed in bed for 18.5 hours.
During one seven-day period, staffers said he appeared depressed 63% of the time. His demeanor was flat 84% of the time, and his hygiene was considered poor 56% of the time.
In court papers his defense team filed in advance of a Wednesday hearing, Loughner’s behavior at the federal facility in Missouri is meticulously detailed, and for good reason. Whether a regimen of anti-psychotic drugs has improved his mood and mental clarity will help determine whether he eventually stands trial in connection with the January shooting rampage in Tucson.
Loughner, who has been diagnosed with schizophrenia, has pleaded not guilty to 49 charges stemming from the rampage outside a supermarket, which killed six people and gravely wounded Democratic Rep. Gabrielle Giffords. In May, Loughner was found mentally unfit to stand trial and transferred to the prison hospital, where mental health professionals have tried to restore his competence.
On Wednesday, U.S. District Judge Larry A. Burns will weigh whether to give prison officials more time to try to make Loughner capable of understanding the legal proceedings and aiding in his defense. Loughner is expected to attend the 11 a.m. hearing in Tucson.
Prosecutors have asked for an eight-month extension to his commitment. They said in court papers that Loughner has started to respond to the medication he has been forced to take. A federal appeals panel recently heard arguments by Loughner’s team that prison officials, who said Loughner was behaving dangerously, should have used tranquilizers or physical restraints instead.
Defense attorneys said daily prison records tell a different story. “He is noted to be either laying in his bed, or pacing, and often crying, and is so disabled that he has been on suicide watch since early July,” Loughner’s team said in court papers. “And, after even after some 60 contiguous days of anti-psychotic medications, he continues to be psychotic.”
Loughner’s mental acuity has been an issue throughout the legal proceedings. When the court was considering his competency this spring, psychiatric examiners turned over hours of videotape that showed Loughner bundled in bed, answering questions with rambling statements about treason. And during his May hearing, Loughner was removed from the courtroom after shouting: “Thank you for the free kill. She died in front of me. Your cheesiness.”
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