National

Aug 7, 2012 3:35 PM by CBS News

Accused Tucson shooter ruled mentally fit for deal

A federal judge agreed with a court-appointed psychiatrist's opinion that the man accused of shooting former Rep. Gabrielle Giffords and many others in a Tucson parking lot in 2011 is competent to enter a plea.

U.S. District Court Judge Larry A. Burns' ruling set the stage for Jared Lee Loughner to plead guilty. A plea agreement is expected to see the 23-year-old college dropout sentenced to life in prison, taking the possibility of the death penalty off the table in the federal case, a person familiar with the case told The Associated Press on Saturday. The person was not authorized to discuss the case publicly and spoke on condition of anonymity.

Earlier Tuesday, in a joint statement released with her husband, Mark Kelly, Giffords said she was satisfied with the expected plea agreement, and she hopes it will allow victims of the mass shooting to move on with their lives.

During the hearing, Loughner's federal psychologist, Dr. Christina Pietz, testified that Loughner at different times believed and doubted whether Giffords survived the shooting, saying sometimes that there was no way anyone could have survived being shot to the head and other times saying he knew she was alive.

"'If this is true, Jared is a failure,'" Pietz said Loughner told her.

Experts had concluded that Loughner suffers from schizophrenia, and officials at a federal prison have forcibly medicated him with psychotropic drugs for more than a year.

Almost immediately after his arrest, there were questions about Loughner's mental state, CBS News correspondent Bill Whitaker reports. Soon after the shootings a videotape surfaced on YouTube of Loughner, from behind the camera, ranting as he walked around his college campus, putting his bizarre behavior on public display.

With Loughner's competency established, a formal change-of-plea hearing will follow. That's when those in the court will hear from Loughner at length for the first time, as the judge questions him about the agreement and changing his plea to guilty.

Burns may ask Loughner to recite his actions in his own words, but either his lawyer or the federal prosecutor could just read the facts of the January 2011 shooting spree at a Tucson supermarket, where Giffords was holding a meet-and-greet with constituents.

Either way, Loughner will be asked to acknowledge that he shot and killed six people, including the top federal judge in Arizona, and wounded 13 others, including Giffords. He'll need to convince Burns he understands what is going on, what he's doing and what he did.

Loughner could break down, change his mind about pleading guilty or show so little understanding of what he's doing that Burns rejects the plea, lawyers not involved in the case said Monday.

"The fact that there is this planned change of plea is no guarantee that it will go forward," said Paul Charlton, a former U.S. attorney for Arizona. "There are any number of things that would happen that would either cause it to be removed from the calendar or not go forward at all."

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