Jared Lee Loughner Back In Court Monday-- Case Could Drag On For Years
Jared Lee Loughner, who is indicted for the attempted assassination of U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords and two of her staff members, will be arraigned in a Phoenix court on Monday morning.
Loughner faces five criminal counts—also accused of killing another Giffords' staff member and a federal judge during a shooting spree at a supermarket in Tucson on Jan. 8. He shot 19 people, six of whom died.
Ahead of Monday's hearing, Loughner's defense filed a motion requesting all future hearings be moved back to Tucson, where his first court appearance was held.
The motion is just one of series that could lead a multi-year process before Loughner is actually found guilty or not guilty. There's questions about who should oversee the case, where the hearings should be held, Loughner's mental competence, how much access the media should have, what evidence will be shown in court, how many charges he will face and even whether the county should launch its own case against Loughner.
At the pre-trial hearing, the attorneys for Loughner, may file a motion requesting Judge Larry A. Burns disqualify himself from the case. There's a possibility they be worried about conflicts of interest because of his previous courtroom encounters with Loughner's attorney and a potential relationship with Judge John Roll, whom Loughner allegedly shot to death.
Burns was a federal prosecutor in San Diego at the same time Judy Clarke—the public defender now representing Loughner—was the Chief Federal Defender in San Diego.
The Ninth Circuit Court's head judge appointed Burns to the Loughner case after every one of the federal judges in Arizona refused to take on the case because of their working relationships with Chief Judge Roll. Loughner's defense team is likely searching for any evidence that Roll had a relationship with Burns similar to the one he had with Arizona judges.
Because Burns and Clarke both still work out of San Diego, there's speculation that she will ask the case be moved from an Arizona courtroom to one in San Diego. Such a move could make it difficult for victims' loved ones to watch the trial, but could make it easier to fill a jury with unbiased citizens. Experts have noted that change of venue motions are extremely difficult to win.
From 1983 to 1991, Clarke was the head public defender for federal cases heard in San Diego. After a brief stint in the Northwest, she has worked out of the San Diego office, though handling cases around the country involving the death penalty.
Burns start out as a San Diego County prosecutor before moving to the U.S. Attorney's office. He served as federal magistrate before finally being appointed to the federal judiciary by President George W. Bush in 2003.
Both Clarke and Burns are noted for their experience with death penalty cases.
"We don't have that many judges, it turns out, who have been involved in potential capital cases," Ninth Circuit Chief Judge Alex Kozinski told the New York Times. “[These cases require] a fairly strong judge who will keep control of the proceedings."
Burns has shown leniency in the past, giving former Rep. Randy “Duke” Cunningham a shorter sentence than prosecutors had asked for because of his health problems.
Whoever the judge in the Loughner case is will have to decide whether or not Loughner is competent to stand trial. A jury may end up deciding whether or not he was mentally insane at the time of the rampage.