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Feds will refile murder charges against Loughner

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Feds will refile murder charges against Loughner

Defense seeks to block release of mug shot

Federal prosecutors will refile murder charges against Jared Lee Loughner before a March 9 court date, a spokesman said.

Prosecutors asked this week to drop charges filed earlier in the shooting deaths of U.S. District Court Judge John Roll and congressional aide Gabriel Zimmerman.

Dennis Burke, U.S. Attorney for Arizona, asked that two of the five counts against Loughner, who is also accused in the attempted assassination of U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, be dismissed "without prejudice to the government to later refile the charges."

Calling it a "procedural matter," spokesman Robbie Sherwood said Saturday that prosecutors intend to seek murder charges before a March 9 status conference on the case.

A federal grand jury already has indicted Loughner on three counts for shooting Giffords and seriously wounding two of her aides.

Federal jurisdiction in the case stems from laws against killing or attempting to kill members of Congress, and killing or attempting to kill federal employees during the course of their duties.

The two murder charges could potentially lead prosecutors to seek the death penalty against Loughner, 22. The U.S. Attorney's Office in Phoenix has said previously that prosecutors were taking their time with the murder charges, since they may involve capital punishment.

This request will enable prosecutors to hone their case against Loughner and seek indictments without missing a legal deadline.

U.S. District Court Judge Larry Alan Burns of San Diego has yet to rule on the request, which was filed late this week.

Burns has set a Feb. 18 hearing in San Diego to hear arguments from Phoenix Newspapers Inc. to unseal a search warrant and a separate motion by Loughner's defense to block the release of his federal booking photograph.

"Mug shots are powerfully associated with criminality," Loughner's attorneys said in the motion.

"Furthermore, and apart from the implications of criminality, the nature of information captured by mug shots are inherently private. Specifically, mug shots reveal what individuals look like at their most humiliated moments, information which is, by nature, highly private."

The now-famous photograph of a grinning Loughner that has run worldwide was taken by Pima County Sheriff's Department deputies soon after they arrested him on Jan. 8. This request doesn't affect that photo.

Loughner was transferred to federal custody the night of Jan. 8 and the mug shot in question was taken by federal officials at some point after the PCSD photo.

Loughner's appearance is expected to be waived for the California hearing. He is set to appear in U.S. District Court in Tucson on March 9 for a status conference that may include setting a trial date.

The shooting outside a Northwest Side grocery store killed six people and wounded 13. The Pima County Attorney's Office agreed to delay prosecuting Loughner on state charges until after the federal case is resolved, which could take years.

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