The judge named to preside over the federal trial of Jared Loughner is a no-nonsense jurist who will keep the proceedings moving and focused, colleagues said.
Larry Alan Burns of the Southern District of California in San Diego was appointed Wednesday by Chief Judge Alex Kozinski of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, which has jurisdiction over California, Arizona and other Western states.
Arizona's federal judges were disqualified from taking the case because their colleague John Roll, who was Arizona's chief federal judge, was killed in the shootings Saturday, and their impartiality "might reasonably be questioned," Roslyn Silver, the district's new chief judge, wrote in an order released Wednesday.
Kozinski said Burns' experience with federal death-penalty cases was an important consideration in his selection. Such cases are relatively rare, and the rules regarding them are arcane.
"We don't have that many judges, it turns out, who have been involved in potential capital cases," Kozinski said in an interview. High-profile cases call for "a fairly strong judge who will keep control of the proceedings," Kozinski said, describing the ideal candidate as "a combination of a general and a traffic cop."
Burns, 56, has precisely that reputation, said Judge Irma Gonzalez, the chief judge of the Southern District of California. Appointed to the federal bench in 2003 by President George W. Bush, Burns is best known for presiding in the trial of Rep. Randy Cunningham of California, who pleaded guilty in 2005 to charges that he accepted $2.4 million in bribes from military contractors in return for a helping hand in obtaining government contracts.
In sentencing Cunningham to eight years and four months in prison, Burns said, "You made a wrong turn and continued for three to five years."
Scholarship set up in honor of Giffords aide
The death of Gabriel Zimmerman, the 30-year-old aide to Rep. Gabrielle Giffords who was by her side when the first shots were fired Saturday, has inspired two alumni of his alma mater, the University of California at Santa Cruz, to set up a scholarship fund in his honor. The scholarship, set up by Jonathan Klein, a partner in a San Francisco law firm, and Alex Clemens, also a former political aide, would go to a student who shares Zimmerman's passion for public service.
Man may have found gunman's ammunition
A man walking his dog found a black bag holding ammunition authorities believe was discarded by the suspected gunman. Chief Rick Kastigar with the Pima County Sheriff's Office told the Associated Press that an 18-year-old found the bag Thursday morning in a neighborhood near where the suspect lives.
NASA selects backup for Giffords' husband
NASA announced Thursday a backup commander, if necessary, to take the place of the astronaut-husband of U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords — veteran shuttle commander Rick Sturckow (STUR'-koh), who is the agency's deputy chief astronaut. Officially, Capt. Mark Kelly, who is Giffords' husband of more than three years, is still the commander for the final scheduled flight of the space shuttle program, NASA said. The shuttle Endeavour is scheduled to launch on April 19 on a trip to the International Space Station. Kelly said in a statement released by NASA that he recommended to the space agency that they "take steps now to prepare to complete the mission in my absence if necessary. I am very hopeful that I will be in a position to rejoin my crew members to finish our training."