Giffords accused denies charges


Representative Gabrielle Giffords is carried from a plane after arriving in Houston to attend a rehabilitation centre (AP)

The man accused of carrying out the mass shooting in Arizona has pleaded not guilty to charges he tried to kill politician Gabrielle Giffords and two of her aides.

The plea by Jared Lee Loughner marked his second court appearance since he allegedly shot the congresswoman and 18 others at Ms Giffords’ meet-and-greet event on January 8 outside a grocery store in Tucson. Six people died and 13 were wounded.

Loughner faces federal charges of trying to assassinate Giffords and attempting to murder two of her aides. He will later face state charges dealing with the other victims.

At least eight US Marshals were present at the hearing in the Phoenix courthouse as Loughner entered smiling and wearing an orange prison suit and glasses.

Investigators have said Loughner was mentally disturbed and acting increasingly erratically in the weeks leading up to the shooting. If his attorney uses mental competency questions as a defence, Loughner could be sent to a mental health facility instead of being sentenced to prison or death.

US District Judge Larry Burns of San Diego asked Loughner’s attorney Judy Clarke whether there was any question about her client’s ability to understand the case against him.

“We are not raising any issues at this time,” Ms Clarke said.

Prosecutor Wallace Kleindienst said he would know within the next 30 days whether additional federal charges would be filed against Loughner. Mr Kleindienst said prosecutors provided defence lawyers with records taken from Loughner’s computer and documents of about 250 interviews made in the case.

The judge did not rule on prosecutors’ request to move the federal case back to Tucson so that victims and witnesses do not have to make the four-hour round trip drive to Phoenix to attend court hearings. The case was moved because one of those killed was a federal judge.

The judge set a March 9 hearing to consider motions in Loughner’s case.

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