Giffords case 'set to take years'


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 Tucson which claimed the lives of six people and wounded 13 others, including an Arizona congresswoman, is to appear in court.

However it is expected to be an early step in a case that could take years to make its way through the criminal justice system.

Both federal and state authorities intend to prosecute Jared Loughner over the January 8 shootings, and there is also likely to be proceedings over whether to move the case to a different venue, a possible insanity defence, and prosecutors’ push for the death penalty.

At the hearing in Phoenix, Loughner, 22, is expected to enter a plea on federal charges against him.

The Tucson man is charged with the attempted assassination of Representative Gabrielle Giffords and the attempted murder of two of her aides. Two of the fatalities included a federal judge and a nine-year-old girl who was born on September 11, 2001. Loughner later will face state charges dealing with the other victims.

Meanwhile, the Houston hospital treating Giffords said that her condition is improving daily, but gave no update on the build up of fluid on the brain that has kept the Arizona congresswoman in intensive care.

In the latest legal move, the US attorney for Arizona in a court filing asked that the federal case be transferred back to Tucson for all further hearings.

The motion said all the victims and witnesses live in the Tucson area and should not be burdened by having to make a four-hour round trip drive to Phoenix to attend court hearings. Local federal court rules also require that a crime that happens in the court’s Tucson region should be tried there unless a court moves the case.

The case was moved to Phoenix because one of the six dead, US District Judge John Roll, was based in Tucson and federal judges there recused themselves. All the federal judges in the rest of the state soon joined them, and a San Diego-based judge is now assigned to the case.

Paul Charlton, who worked as Arizona’s US attorney from 2001 to 2007 and is not involved in the Loughner case, believes Loughner will likely mount an insanity defence. “Given what we know, that’s going to be a defence,” Charlton said.

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