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Loughner to Undergo Test for Competency at Trial

TUCSON, Ariz. (CN) - A federal judge ordered Jared Lee Loughner to undergo a competency exam at a U.S. Bureau of Prisons facility in Missouri, despite objections from defense attorneys that the accused killer is "seriously ill" and that the transfer would only make him worse.

Loughner, who is accused of killing six people and wounding 13, including Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords, will spend up to 30 days being examined by psychiatrists at a federal medical referral center in Springfield, according to an order signed late Monday by U.S. District Judge Larry Burns.

Burns had previously given the government and Loughner's defense team a chance to work out the issue among themselves, but those efforts failed.

The judge cited the advice of Dr. Donald Lewis, chief of psychiatry for the Bureau of Prisons, and "distinguished independent forensic psychiatrist" Dr. Saul J. Faerstein as a determining factor in his decision.

"The government's position - and Dr. Lewis's and Dr. Faerstein's advice - do not appear to the court to be self-serving, nor designed to gain any tactical advantage," Burns wrote in the six-page order. "Indeed, having requested the competency exam in the first place, the government would seem to have as much interest as the defense and the court in obtaining the most valid and reliable examination available. Meeting that objective requires selecting the best place to conduct the examination."

Fearing that the transfer will worsen the "seriously ill" Loughner's mental state, the defense wanted him examined in Tucson by a psychiatrist or psychologist who is not affiliated with the Bureau of Prisons.

Lewis, the prison bureau's psychiatry chief, argued that the high-security facility in Tucson where Loughner is being held is "an extraordinary, atypical and inappropriate location for a competency study," according to Burns' order.

"The defense argues the government's preference for Springfield is based on only the hypothetical possibility that a competency examination would be difficult to complete in Tucson," Burns wrote. "But the government's preference for Springfield is hardly hypothetical. Rather, it is based on the opinion of trusted mental health authorities that [a medical referral center] is, in all respects, better suited for the kind of thorough competency examination that must be performed in this case. As the defense acknowledges, the government was initially open to the idea of moving the defendant to the Metropolitan Correctional Center in San Diego, or having a psychiatrist visit him in the Tucson penitentiary. That the government's position is different now isn't a cynical shift in course, as the defense suggests, but rather the result of a conscientious effort to consult with knowledgeable authorities in the field and recommend to the court the best available competency exam."

Burns granted a defense request to conduct an independent competency examination at the Springfield facility as long as it is completed by April 29. He also agreed that all of the government's "formal, clinical interviews" with Loughner should be recorded.


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