In making his decision, US District Judge Larry Burns relied on the findings of two forensic mental-health professionals who evaluated Mr. Loughner at a federal prison complex in Missouri. Psychologist Christina Pietz and psychiatrist Matthew Carroll independently concluded that Loughner lacks a clear understanding of the legal proceedings and exhibits an irrational distrust of his attorneys – a significant impediment to assisting in his own defense.
Loughner, who briefly returned to the courtroom before being allowed to watch the proceedings on a screen out of sight, will now be committed to a mental hospital. Judge Burns ordered that he is to be tested again in four months. If, after treatment, he is then adjudged competent, the court proceedings can move forward.
Loughner has been diagnosed with schizophrenia and his mental health has steadily deteriorated in recent years, Judge Burns explained, summarizing from the written reports. Neither the prosecution nor the defense presented any additional evidence or argument.
Acknowledging the high public interest in the Jan. 8 mass shooting that killed six and wounded 13, Judge Burns verbally summarized the findings contained in 95 pages of written reports and 18 hours of videotaped interviews. He cited medical privacy concerns for not disclosing the complete records.
In the reports, which include material that predates the shooting as well as interviews with witnesses, the defendant is described as delusional, with "random and disorganized” thoughts, the judge said. The reports also note that Loughner’s psychotic behavior made it difficult to administer psychological tests.
The judge said he gave careful consideration to the possibility that Loughner might be feigning a mental disorder to avoid criminal charges.
But like Dr. Carroll and Dr. Pietz, the judge rejected that possibility based on the evidence, including Loughner’s “odd and bizarre behavior” in the last two years and the defendant’s denials that he is mentally unstable. “In fact, he scoffs at the idea,” Judge Burns noted.
Loughner will be returned to the Missouri facility where he was evaluated, so that he can start receiving treatment, says Robbie Sherwood, a spokesman for the federal prosecutors.
In most cases, defendants who are found unfit for trial can be restored to competency, says Mr. Sherwood. If their condition does not improve, they can be held indefinitely, lest they pose a danger to themselves or others, he adds.
Also in the courtroom Wednesday were several victims of the shooting spree that killed a federal district judge and seriously injured US Rep. Gabrielle Giffords.