TUCSON, Ariz. (CN) – Jared Lee Loughner pleaded not guilty on Wednesday to a new federal indictment that charges him with 49 crimes stemming from the Jan. 8 shooting rampage in which six people were killed and more than a dozen were wounded.
At the hearing, U.S. District Judge Larry Burns also granted federal prosecutors’ motion for a competency hearing over the objections of defense, who said such action was premature. The hearing is scheduled for May 25.
Some of the survivors from the Jan. 8 shooting spree, which occurred at an open meeting for Rep. Gabrielle Giffords in a Safeway parking lot, were in attendance at Wednesday’s hearing.
Loughner, wearing a tan prisoner’s jumpsuit, smiled as he entered the courtroom under heavy security. Though his head and face were clean-shaven at the time of the shootings, the 22-year-old hair now sports a short cut and long sideburns growing along his jaw. Throughout the hearing he sat back casually in his chair. When asked, just prior to a recitation of the charges against him, if Jared Lee Loughner was his real name, he answered loudly, “yes, it is.”
Susan Hileman, who brought 9-year-old shooting victim Christina Taylor Green to the Jan. 8 event, sat just a few feet behind Loughner in a wheelchair.
The new indictment, which was unsealed Friday, charges Loughner with Green’s murder and the murders three other lay citizens: Dorothy Morris, Phyllis Schneck and Dorwan Stoddard. He is also charged with murdering U.S. District Judge John M. Roll and Gabriel Zimmerman, a member of the Giffords staff.
Other charges include the attempted murder of Giffords, who survived being shot in the head at close range, and two other members on her staff, Ronald Barber and Pamela Simon, who were both shot multiple times and are recovering. Giffords is undergoing rehabilitation in Houston.
Prosecutors argued that evidence about Loughner’s state of mind, gleaned from videos he posted on YouTube before the shootings, has raised serious questions as to the suspect’s competency to stand trial. The videos and other evidence show that Loughner apparently believed he was being bugged by the CIA and had an extreme distrust of judges and the government.
Arguing against a competency hearing at this stage, Loughner’s attorney, Judy Clarke, said it was “entirely premature.”
“The response that the court would get would be very unreliable at this stage,” she said.
Judge Burns signed off on the government’s motion.
“I have some concerns about whether he is fully understanding the proceedings,” he said.
In addition to setting the May 25 hearing, the judge directed attorneys to confer on a proper venue – possibly San Diego, where both Burns and defense attorney Clarke are based – and to decide who would evaluate the accused.