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Saturday, February 24, 2024
Courthouse News Service
Saturday, February 24, 2024 | Back issues
Courthouse News Service Courthouse News Service

Feds Still Don’t Have to Record Tucson Suspect

(CN) - A federal judge again refused to make the government videotape interviews doctors conduct with the suspect accused of the mass shooting in Tucson, Ariz., that killed six and injured 13, including Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords.

After being declared incompetent to stand trial, Jared Lee Loughner, 23, has been receiving treatment for schizophrenia at the Medical Center for Federal Prisons in Springfield, Mo.

Loughner's attorneys immediately sought to have the government videotape competency interviews with their client, but U.S. District Judge Larry Burns refused in August, finding that the request was overbroad, that the law did not require such relief and that Loughner had reacted violently to an early attempt at videotaping.

"The defendant's original competency examination was videotaped, and this was apparently very distracting to the defendant and a hindrance to the FMC staff conducting the examination," Burns wrote at the time.

Burns refused to reconsider that position later that month, though Loughner's attorneys limited their request to "formal clinical assessments of Mr. Loughner by the primary BOP evaluator."

When prosecutors told the court at a September competency hearing that they needed another eight months to make Loughner competent, the defense attorneys renewed their request for videotaped interviews.

Loughner's primary treating psychologist, Christina Pietz, told the court that she does not object to court-ordered videotapes. But Loughner still does not want to be videotaped and such recordings might exacerbate his recent reluctance to speak with her, she warned.

"That Dr. Pietz does not object to videotaping if ordered by the court does not persuade the court to order it," Burns wrote Tuesday (emphasis in original). "It appears that Dr. Pietz's original concerns about the impediment a videotaping requirement would impose on her assessment of and interactions with the defendant have not fully abated."

"The court therefore reaffirms its conclusion that providing the defense the opportunity at a future competency hearing to cross-examine the government's witnesses and call witnesses of its own are adequate adversarial safeguards to protect the defendant's due process and fair trial rights," he added.

Burns added that Pietz will not have release her notes about Loughner's competency until such time as he is released from commitment.

If Loughner's attorneys videotape their experts' interactions with the suspect, they can shield such recordings from the government unless they plan to use them as evidence at trial, the four-page order also states.

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