Loughner Faces 49 Counts in Tucson Shootings

James A. Cohen in New York Times, March 04, 2011

Media Source

By Marc Lacey

PHOENIX – Prosecutors filed 49 federal charges Friday against Jared L. Loughner, the suspect in the Tucson shooting spree, accusing him of murdering and attempting to murder five federal officials but also of killing four constituents of Representative Gabrielle Giffords who were attending a public event she sponsored, and injuring 10 others waiting in line to talk to her.

“You have a right to meet with your member of Congress openly and freely and peacefully,” said U.S. Attorney Dennis K. Burke, indicating he was confident that the novel legal theory the prosecutors were using – including charges involving victims who were not federal officials but merely attending a “federally provided activity” – would be upheld in court. Outside legal experts, however, said the charges would give an opening for Mr. Loughner’s defense team, led by Judy Clarke, to challenge their validity.

The raft of new charges, some of which could carry the death penalty, go far beyond the previous indictment against Mr. Loughner, a troubled 22-year-old man who is accused of opening fire outside a Tucson-area supermarket on Jan. 8 with a Glock semiautomatic pistol in an effort to kill Ms. Giffords.

Prosecutors were clearly attempting to avoid putting Mr. Loughner on trial only for attacks on federal officials and possibly face criticism as a result that they were overlooking other victims, including a 9-year-old girl whose death was made the focal point of a speech by President Obama during a visit to Tucson.

But whether Ms. Giffords’ “Congress on Your Corner” event can be considered a United States government activity, and the area outside the Safeway supermarket federal property, will surely be disputed. “This expands federal property to where a federal employee is working,” said James A. Cohen, a law professor at Fordham University. “If someone is campaigning on a subway platform, is that federal property too?”

In addition to the attempted assassination of a member of Congress, the new charges against Mr. Loughner include the murders of two federal officials: U.S. District Judge John M. Roll and congressional aide Gabriel M. Zimmerman. Mr. Loughner is also accused of causing the death of four participants at a federal activity, Dorothy J. Morris, Phyllis C. Schneck, Dorwan C. Stoddard and 9-year-old Christina-Taylor Green, as well as injuring 10 others struck by bullets that day. He also faces numerous weapons charges for carrying and brandishing and discharging a gun.

The fresh charges were included in a superseding indictment returned Thursday by a federal grand jury, Mr. Burke said at a press conference here with Nathan T. Gray, special agent in charge of the F.B.I. Phoenix Division, and David Gonzales, the U.S. marshal for Arizona. Pima County prosecutors have opted to delay pursuing state charges against Mr. Loughner, who was tackled by bystanders at the scene, until after the federal government concludes its case.

Mr. Loughner, who had numerous run-ins with law enforcement before the shooting and exhibited bizarre behavior that suggests he may be mentally unstable, is in federal custody and is scheduled to make his third court appearance before a federal judge on Wednesday. It will be the first hearing in the case to be held at the Tucson courthouse that Mr. Roll presided over.

Of the 13 people wounded in the attack, everyone has been released from the hospital, except Ms. Giffords, who suffered a bullet wound to the brain and is undergoing rehabilitation at a specialized facility in Houston.

The suffering that victims experience, however, endures. Ron Barber, who was Ms. Gifford’s district director and was shot in the jaw and the groin, told reporters recently that he cannot get images of flying bullets and dropping bodies out of his head.

“What I deal with frequently is just the tape running in my head – sometimes in dreams, sometimes during the day – of what happened,” he said, according to The Associated Press. “And that’s, that’s very difficult to remember and to see that.”

Contact: James A. Cohen
Email: jcohen@law.fordham.edu