SAN DIEGO (AP) — A federal judge ruled Monday that the suspect in the Tucson shooting rampage that wounded former Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords will spend four more months at a federal prison facility where officials are forcibly medicating him.
In making his decision, U.S. District Court Judge Larry Burns noted that Jared Lee Loughner has made marked improvement at the facility in Springfield, Mo., where he has participated in group therapy with other inmates and at times had coherent speech and steady eye contact with others.
"That in and of itself is a signal of measurable progress," Burns said, adding that when he first saw the suspect in court, "there was no way" he could have done that.
Mental health experts have determined that Loughner, 23, suffers from schizophrenia and are trying to make him fit to stand trial.
He has pleaded not guilty to 49 charges stemming from the Jan. 8, 2011, attack in Tucson that killed six people and injured 13 others, including Giffords, who resigned from Congress last month to focus on recovering from being shot in the head.
Loughner's attorneys have vigorously fought the government's efforts to medicate him with psychotropic drugs, although they did not object to the judge's decision Monday. Attorney Judy Clarke declined to comment after the hearing.
Since his arrest, Loughner has demonstrated bizarre behavior. He was removed from a May 25 court hearing after lowering his head to within inches of the courtroom table before lifting it and unleashing a loud and angry rant.
Loughner has been at the Missouri facility since May 28.
His federal psychologist Dr. Christina Pietz said he still does not fully understand the nature and gravity of the charges against him, but she believes he will continue to improve.
Burns ordered officials at the facility to immediately call him if Loughner becomes competent at any time during the next four months. The suspect's psychologist is also required to give the court an update on his status no later than May 24.
Burns said he would review the status report before scheduling the next hearing. Loughner's current stay at the facility is set to expire on June 7.
The judge also agreed to allow the prosecution to see the psychologist's notes after the material has been reviewed by Loughner's attorney to remove any details that would compromise attorney-client privilege. Clarke promised to do that within a week's time.
Burns told attorneys that none of the details in the notes can be used against Loughner in court because "he's talking to her for the purpose of treatment."
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