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Judge denies hearing on forced meds for Loughner

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Judge denies hearing on forced meds for Loughner

  • Loughner
    U.S. Marshals ServiceLoughner

Accused Jan. 8 shooter Jared Lee Loughner's request for a court hearing on whether he should continue to be involuntarily medicated was denied by a federal judge Tuesday.

Loughner, charged with killing six and wounding 13 others, including U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, on Jan. 8, will continue to be involuntarily medicated at the Springfield, Mo., federal prison hospital where doctors are working to restore his ability to stand trial, ruled U.S. District Judge Larry Burns.

He faces 49 federal counts in the shooting, which took place at a "Congress On Your Corner" meet-and-greet with constituents.

Prison officials have been giving Loughner anti-psychotic and other medications against his will, after holding non-judicial hearings that determined he is a danger to himself.

Loughner's defense team has argued that forcing drugs on Loughner without a court hearing is a violation of Sell vs. United States, which requires a judge's ruling that a defendant be involuntarily medicated for the purposes of making him competent for trial.

Burns denied that move Tuesday, ruling that "Sell does not apply when, as here, the decision to involuntarily medicate a defendant is made by prison doctors to abate that defendant’s dangerousness."

Defense attorneys asked the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals last week to halt the forced medication.

On Sept. 28, when Burns ordered Loughner to undergo another four months of treatment at the Missouri prison medical center, he raised the issue of whether the Sell case now applied:

This is a significant change, I think, in at least the legal status of the defendant.

I’m now committing him for the purpose of restoration. No more evaluation. It changes today with this ruling. He’s being committed for another four months for the purpose of restoration.

I’m committing him at a time that I know that they’re continuing to treat him with medication that he declines to take. He’s passively resisting, which means they tell him “Either you have to do this or we’ll give you a shot and forcibly inject you.” In the face of that, he comes and takes the medicine.

I think this is a very different situation from what has existed to this point. I’m now telling them to continue to restore him. I think we’re right up against Sell. And the reason I asked the parties to be ready to speak to this is I think some form of a Sell hearing or an acknowledgment needs to take place here.

From Tuesday's ruling:

Accepting the legitimacy of the doctors’ conclusion that the defendant must be medicated to control his dangerousness, the Court asked the parties for guidance on whether it must nevertheless conduct a Sell hearing at this stage in the case, and if so, what the nature or extent of that hearing should be. The Court sought this guidance based on the changed directive it had given to FMC Springfield to attempt to restore the defendant to competency. Having now fully considered the matter, the Court concludes that there is no need for a full-blown Sell hearing to consider the merits of the medication decision. Involuntary medication of the defendant in this case is justified under Harper, and Sell itself recognizes that this finding obviates the need for further inquiry.

Burns ruled Sept. 28 that Loughner must spend another four months in a federal prison hospital as doctors work to make him fit to stand trial.

"He understands that he's murdered people," a prison doctor testified, and no longer believes that U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords was killed in the shooting rampage.

Loughner has refused to voluntarily take prescribed psychtropic drugs, but acquiesces and takes oral medication when informed that prison officials will otherwise forcibly inject the drugs. He was been taking the drugs for nine weeks, after prison officials were ordered by the court to stop for nearly three weeks in July.

Prison officials have determined in non-judicial hearings that Loughner is a danger to himself, and he remains on a suicide watch that was imposed July 8.

The drugs, including the anti-psychotic Risperidone, antidepressant Wellbutrin and sedative Lorazepam, have increased Loughner's functioning, testified prison psychologist Dr. Christina Pietz.

There is a "substantial probability" that Loughner will be restored to competence and be able to stand trial with more treatment, Burns ruled last month, after hearing testimony from a prison psychologist and an expert witness.

Burns determined in May that Loughner was not capable of cooperating with his lawyers or understanding the trial.

Giffords on the move

Giffords, still recovering from a Jan. 8 shot to the head, traveled to North Carolina on Sunday, where she will receive two weeks of specialized rehabilitation, her spokesman said Sunday.

The trip to Asheville, N.C., had been planned for several months, said Mark Kimble, describing her travel as "strictly rehabilitation-related." Giffords will see a therapist who has worked with her in Houston and "been extensively involved in the congresswoman’s therapy," he said.

The congresswoman has no scheduled public appearances or events and will give no interviews while on the trip, which will last until Nov. 4, he said.

While Giffords has not indicated whether she is running for reelection, her campaign has continued to raise and spend significant amounts of money.

The congresswoman, yet to speak in public after being shot in the head Jan. 8, will read the last chapter of her joint memoir with her husband, set for release next month.

Giffords will read the last chapter of "Gabby: A Story of Courage and Hope," with husband Mark Kelly, a now-retired astronaut, reading the remainder of the book.

The audiobook is slated for release Nov. 15, the same day as the hardcover and digital copies of the book, which is being published by Scribner, an imprint of Simon and Schuster. The memoir was co-written by Jeffrey Zaslow.

The couple's story will be featured in an ABC News prime-time special the night before the book comes out. While the network had touted an on-camera interview with Giffords, her spokesman said last month that the congresswoman hadn't decided whether to appear on the television report.

Giffords has not given an interview since being shot in the head in what authorities charge was an assassination attempt on Jan. 8.

A Scribner's spokesman said last month that Giffords and Kelly have not scheduled any other interviews related to the book.

While undergoing rehabilitation in Houston after being shot through the brain, Giffords has made only a few public appearances, and traveled little.

She returned to Tucson over Labor Day weekend, seeing close friends and family and having dinner with staffers from University Medical Center.

She made two trips to Florida to see her husband, astronaut Mark Kelly, command the space shuttle, and also visited Tucson in June.

Her most noteworthy, and public, appearance was to return to Congress on Aug. 1 to cast a vote on the debt ceiling.

She returned to Washington again in early October, for a ceremony marking Kelly's retirement from the Navy.

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