DISORDER IN THE COURT
If anyone needed more evidence that Jared Lee Loughner is a deeply disturbed person, all you had to do was watch his behavior in court last week.
Loughner had an out-of-control outburst while U.S. District Court Judge Larry Burns was discussing an element of the case during the Wednesday, May 25, hearing.
"Thank you for the freak show!" shouted Loughner, who is facing dozens of charges related to the Tucson shooting spree on Jan. 8 that killed six and wounded 13, including Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords, who was shot in the head. "She died right in front of me. You're changing it!"
Loughner was removed from the courtroom and then watched the hearing on TV from a nearby room as Burns ruled that, after reviewing the reports from doctors who had examined Loughner, the defendant was not competent to stand trial.
Both prosecutors and defense attorneys agreed with doctors who concluded that Loughner could not currently assist in his defense against the 49 counts stemming from the failed assassination attempt on Giffords, who is still recovering at a Houston rehabilitation facility.
The doctors concluded that Loughner suffers from schizophrenia that results in delusions, bizarre thinking and hallucinations, according to Burns. They also concluded that Loughner is not malingering, i.e., faking mental illness.
Loughner will be spending the next four months at a federal facility in Springfield, Mo., as doctors attempt to restore him to competency so he can face trial. He's due back here for a court hearing on Sept. 21 to see what kind of progress he's made.
Burns' decision to send Loughner to a federal medical center for psychiatric treatment does not mean that he won't face trial, says Kurt Altman, a former prosecutor with the U.S. Attorney's Office who now works as a criminal defense attorney in Phoenix.
"There's a misconception out there that this is a blow to the prosecution's case," Altman says. "It's really not. The Constitution guarantees a trial for competent individuals, and because there were certainly issues in regards to his mental capacity or mental deficiencies or whatever, the prosecution certainly wants to get that out into the open right away."
That's why prosecutors pushed to resolve the issue of competence at a March hearing, over the objections of the defense team. By resolving the issue now, it means it is less likely to be a problem on the eve of a trial or even after a trial has begun.
"Competency can be raised at any time, and you don't want to have to go back and start this process over and basically reinvent the wheel," Altman says. "So the earlier they address it, the better for them."
The question of whether Loughner is competent to stand trial is a separate issue from an insanity defense, according to Altman.
"Competence focuses on his mental state now, as we sit here today, and his ability to understand what he's going through," Altman says. "It has nothing to do with whether he'll stand trial or not."
It's possible that Loughner could be forced to take medication against his will as part of the restoration process, but that will require another court order, according to Altman.
Loughner could face the death penalty if convicted of the charges against him, which include killing U.S. District Judge John M. Roll, Gabe Zimmerman, Dorothy J. Morris, Phyllis C. Schneck, Dorwan C. Stoddard and Christina-Taylor Green.
Altman explains that after Loughner is restored to competence, it's possible that his defense team will inform prosecutors that they intend to present an insanity defense, which "would focus on ... 'He didn't understand that what he was doing was wrong at the time of the incident.'"
If a jury were to find Loughner not guilty by reason of insanity, "it doesn't end there," Altman says. "That doesn't let him walk out the door. There are civil-commitment proceedings for people who are a danger to themselves and others."
JUMPING THE TRACKS
State Sen. Al Melvin, who represents the Catalina foothills and Oro Valley in the Arizona Legislature, says that jobs are his No. 1 priority—but don't expect him to support the idea of improving commerce between Mexico and the United States.
At a hearing in Phoenix last week, a group of Nogales businessmen called on Melvin and his Interim Joint Border Security Advisory Committee to support a call to Washington, D.C., to add more Customs and Border Protection agents to the Nogales Port of Entry to smooth entry into the U.S.
You'd think a guy who spent his career in the shipping business would appreciate the importance of moving goods quickly in today's world. But Melvin said he opposed the idea, because it would add employees to the government payroll.
Remember that Melvin doesn't mind having more Border Patrol agents or National Guardsmen on the border, but he's upset at the idea of having more people inspecting the cars and trucks that come across from Nogales.
Melvin suggested a potential alternative solution would be to build new railroad tracks to carry goods. We think someone has read Atlas Shrugged a few too many times and has Dagny Taggart's trains on the brain.
SCREW THE UNEMPLOYED!
State lawmakers need to act soon to change a single word in state law to allow some out-of-work Arizonans to continue to receive unemployment benefits from the federal government beyond June 11.
Something tells us it ain't gonna happen.
Matt Benson, a spokesman for Gov. Jan Brewer, tells The Skinny that the governor "supports a change in statute so the state gets the entirety of unemployment dollars from the federal government."
But Republican lawmakers don't want to give out-of-work Arizonans a break in these tough times. State Sen. Steve Pierce went so far as to call the idea "stupid."
Sen. Al Melvin remains opposed to the special session as well. Melvin, who has said in the past that extending unemployment benefits discourages people from looking for work, is taking his lead from European nations.
"When this came up in Europe, they found that as the time decreases, people brushed off their résumés and went back to work quicker than if it was just an open-ended time," Melvin said.
He added that there are plenty of jobs to be had in Arizona, despite an April unemployment rate of nearly 9 percent.
"I'm not a help-wanted department here, but I'm hearing from many private-sector companies (that there are jobs out there)," Melvin said.
When a Tucson television reporter asked Melvin about the contention by Arizona Democrats and Gov. Brewer that the extension of benefits won't cost the state anything because it would be paid for with federal dollars, Melvin got so excited that he knocked the mic off of his shirt.
"This is stealing from unborn generations," Melvin said. "This is what is called generational theft, and we're not going to be a part of it. And where is the money coming from? It's coming from China, is where it's coming from. So we're taking money from China to provide unemployment benefits, and it's money that we just don't have."
Melvin says he'd have this to say to people whose benefits are about to run out: "How long have they been on that (unemployment) already?"