A federal judge ruled Wednesday that Jared Lee Loughner is mentally unfit to stand trial on charges related to the January shooting that killed six people and injured 13 others, including U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords.
The finding of mental incompetence calls into question whether Loughner will ever stand trial.
The ruling will send Loughner to a federal facility—most likely the one in Missouri where he was originally evaluated—to see if he can be restored to competency, the Associated Press reports. In the event that he remains unfit to stand trial, Loughner is expected to remain in a federal psychiatric facility and will not be set free.
U.S. District Judge Larry Burns issued the ruling based on written mental evaluations submitted by a pair of mental health experts. The Arizona Daily Star reports that according to the experts, Loughner is unable to help with his defense because of his “irrational distrust of lawyers,” and because he “doesn’t understand the system and the role played by everyone.”
The ruling came shortly after Loughner had to be removed from the courtroom after an outburst. “Thank you for the freak show,” Loughner told the judge, according to the Daily Star. “She died in front of me.”
It is important to note that the incompetency finding is different than a not-guilty verdict by reason of insanity. Wednesday's ruling is not a reflection of what the court thinks Loughner’s mental state was at the time of the shooting. Instead, it means that the court believes the defendant is not mentally equipped to understand the charges against him and help his lawyer’s argue in his defense.
Loughner, 22, has pleaded not guilty to 49 federal charges related to the Jan. 8 shooting at a public event in Giffords’ home district. Among those killed were a federal judge and a 9-year-old girl. If convicted, Loughner could face the death penalty.
Loughner’s lawyers have yet to lay out their legal defense and it is not certain that they will present an insanity defense, according to the AP. But the lawyers did note in court filings that their client’s mental condition will be a key issue and described him as a “gravely mentally ill man.”