PHOENIX — The suspect in the shooting of Rep. Gabrielle Giffords smiled and nodded but didn't speak as he appeared in court Monday and his lawyer provided the 22-year-old's first response to the charges: a plea of not guilty.
In the two weeks since the deadly attack that killed six outside a Tucson grocery store, Jared Loughner's hair — shaved in the mug shot that has become an enduring image of the tragedy — has grown out slightly. The Tucson resident wore an orange prison jumpsuit and glasses, and his wrists were cuffed to a chain around his waist as eight U.S. marshals kept watch.
Loughner faces federal charges of trying to assassinate Giffords and kill two of her aides. He will likely face state charges in the attack, and also federal murder charges for the deaths of Giffords aide Gabe Zimmerman and U.S. District Judge John Roll.
Investigators have said Loughner was mentally disturbed and acting increasingly erratic in the weeks before the attack on Jan. 8 that wounded 13. If Loughner's attorney uses mental competency questions as a successful defense, Loughner could be sent to a mental health facility instead of being sentenced to prison or death.
But his attorney, Judy Clarke, said she wasn't raising issues of competency "at this time" after U.S. District Judge Larry Burns of San Diego asked whether there was any question about her client's ability to understand the case against him.
The judge did not rule on prosecutors' request to move the federal case back to Tucson so victims and witnesses don't have to make the four-hour round trip drive to Phoenix to attend court hearings. The case was moved because Roll was a federal judge.
Giffords was shot in the head and spent two weeks in a Tucson hospital before she was flown to a Houston hospital Friday.
Memorial Hermann-Texas Medical Center spokesman James Campbell said Monday that the next update on the Democratic congresswoman's condition would come when she's ready to move to a rehab hospital.