Court mulls whether to send Loughner to Missouri

PHOENIX (AP) — An appeals court is considering whether to keep the Tucson shooting rampage suspect in Arizona while his attorneys try to keep him from returning to a Missouri prison where experts would try to make him mentally fit to stand trial.

The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals had earlier ordered that Jared Lee Loughner be kept in a Tucson prison temporarily after he attended a court hearing in Arizona last week over his mental health.

A three-judge panel of the appeals court held a hearing in San Francisco on Thursday to decide where Loughner will be housed on a longer basis, but by mid-afternoon it hadn’t made a decision.

Loughner has pleaded not guilty to 49 charges stemming from the Jan. 8 shooting that killed six people and injured 13, including Rep. Gabrielle Giffords.

Before coming back to Arizona for last week’s hearing, Loughner had spent four months at a Springfield, Mo., facility where experts were trying to make him mentally fit to stand trial. Prison officials have forcibly medicated Loughner with psychotropic drugs for more than 60 days.

U.S. District Judge Larry Burns concluded that Loughner can probably be made psychologically ready for trial and ordered him back to Missouri for four more months of mental health treatment.

Loughner’s attorneys asked the appeals court to block his transfer back to Missouri, arguing that the order extending his mental health treatment there was legally erroneous.

Defense lawyers say Burns incorrectly refused to consider the effect that an extension of Loughner’s commitment would have on his capacity to go forward to trial. They argued it wasn’t enough for Burns to find that Loughner will probably become competent to understand the court case — he must also be mentally fit in a way where he can meaningfully assist his lawyers in presenting his defense.

Prosecutors opposed Loughner’s appeal and defended Burns’ ruling, arguing that defense lawyers aren’t likely to succeed in their appeal.

Prosecutors say Loughner’s lawyers haven’t shown that their client will suffer irreparable harm if he gets sent back to Missouri for treatment. They said Loughner’s progress in treating his mental illness shouldn’t be disrupted for him to remain in Tucson while his appeal is resolved.

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