Criminal Justice

Possible Plea by Suspect in Slaying of Chief Ariz. District Judge to Be Mulled in Tuesday Hearing

A plea bargain has reportedly been reached concerning the suspect in the 2011 murder of Arizona’s chief federal district court judge and five others in a shopping-mall shooting spree that also severely injured a member of Congress and led to her eventual resignation.

But there are still a number of hurdles to be overcome before the possible plea by Jared Lee Loughner, which is expected to be discussed in a Tucson federal court hearing on Tuesday is a done deal, reports the Associated Press.

Relying on an unidentified source, the AP says a plea deal has been reached in which Loughner would get a life sentence rather than a potential death penalty, if he were to be found guilty. However, before it can be accepted, U.S. District Judge Larry A. Burns would have to find that Loughner, who has been forcibly medicated for a year, is no longer unfit for trial. An expert is expected to testify Tuesday that the suspect is competent to plead.

Then, if the judge accepts that finding, Loughner would have to agree to the plea and act in a manner consistent with doing so, the news agency points out.

“The fact that there is this planned change of plea is no guarantee that it will go forward,” explained Paul Charlton, a former U.S. attorney for Arizona who is not involved in the case. “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.”

In a Monday order, the judge confirmed the agenda for today’s hearing, reports Bloomberg.

“If the court finds the defendant competent, his counsel has requested a follow-on change of plea hearing,” wrote Burns. “Accordingly, assuming the court finds the defendant competent, it will also consider whether to accept the defendant’s proffered pleas.”

The Wall Street Journal and other news organizations are reporting that the husband of former U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, who was severely wounded in the shopping mall attack, says she supports a plea deal that would give him a life prison term.

Additional coverage: “Video Shows Chief US District Judge Roll Protecting Giffords Aide as Suspect Fired 32 Bullets” “Suspect in Slaying of Chief Ariz. Fed’l Judge, Shooting of Congresswoman Found Incompetent for Trial” “Loughner Lawyers Apparently Trying to Show Mental Illness Runs in the Family”

Updated at 10:48 a.m. to include Wall Street Journal coverage.

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