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Man accused in Giffords shooting pleads not guilty

PHOENIX (AP) — The 22-year-old man accused in a deadly Arizona rampage that critically wounded Rep. Gabrielle Giffords has made his first public statement regarding his role in the shooting: He’s not guilty.

Jared Loughner entered the plea Monday to federal charges of trying to assassinate Giffords and kill two of her aides. He also faces murder charges in the deaths of a federal judge and another Giffords aide killed in the Tucson shootings, and more charges were expected.

The Tucson man had his wrists cuffed to a chain around his waist; eight U.S. marshals kept watch in the packed Phoenix courtroom and gallery above. Investigators have said Loughner was mentally disturbed and acting increasingly erratic in the weeks leading up to the attack on Jan. 8 that killed six and wounded 13.

Giffords, a three-term Democratic congresswoman, was shot in the forehead and spent two weeks in a Tucson hospital before she was flown to Houston to begin her rehabilitation. Among the six who died in the attack at a constituent event was a 9-year-old girl who was interested in politics and was taken there by a neighbor to meet Giffords.

Christina Taylor Green’s family, as well as a Giffords intern who cared for the congresswoman after she was shot, are expected to attend President Barack Obama’s State of the Union address Tuesday night. Daniel Hernandez was hailed as a hero for rushing to Giffords’ side and applying pressure to her wounds before paramedics arrived.

Also expected to attend the address is the four-member Arizona medical team that treated Giffords, her office said Monday. Her new medical team in Houston said the next update on her condition would come when they are ready to move Giffords to the rehab hospital.

Loughner’s hearing Monday did not offer any indication of a defense strategy. His attorney, Judy Clarke, said she wasn’t raising issues of competency “at this time” after the judge asked whether there was any question about her client’s ability to understand the case against him.

If Clarke uses mental competency questions as a defense and is successful, Loughner could be sent to a mental health facility instead of being sentenced to prison or death.

The federal murder charges Loughner faces carry a potential death penalty, which require a painstaking process under Justice Department rules.

Prosecutors said they would know within the next 30 days whether additional federal charges would be filed against Loughner, who could also face state charges.

The judge set a March 9 hearing to consider motions in the case.

Clarke has not responded to requests seeking comment. She is one of the top lawyers in the country for defendants facing prominent death penalty cases, having represented clients such “Unabomber” Ted Kaczynski and Olympic bomber Eric Rudolph. She has a reputation for working out plea deals that spare defendants the death penalty, as was the case for Rudolph and Kaczynski.

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Associated Press writers Michelle Price in Phoenix and Ramit Plushnick-Masti in Houston contributed to this report.

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