Video: A silent, smiling Loughner pleads not guilty

  1. Transcript of: A silent, smiling Loughner pleads not guilty

    WILLIAMS: Good evening.

    BRIAN WILLIAMS, anchor: Tonight we have a late update on the story so much of the country has been following, the health and treatment of Congresswoman Gabby Giffords of Arizona , and whether her road to recovery might be a bit tougher than we first knew. But first, reporters got another look today at the man accused of trying to kill her; the alleged gunman, the troubled 22-year-old named Jared Loughner . He pleaded not guilty today to federal charges that he tried to kill a member of Congress and two of her aides. The attack, you'll recall, killed six people, wounded 13 others. We begin our coverage tonight with NBC 's Mike Taibbi , on the story this evening from Phoenix . Mike , good evening.

    MIKE TAIBBI reporting: Good evening, Brian . How are you? The arraignment today was on only three of the federal charges, not the potential death penalty charges for the murders of Judge John Roll and Giffords ' aide Gabe Zimmerman . But those charges could be added much sooner than many expected. Jared Loughner had shuffled into court, shackled hand and foot, with a thin smile that kept reappearing on his face, but in the 10-minute hearing he didn't say a word. His lawyer Judy Clarke entered his not guilty plea, and told the court the proceedings could continue from hereon in in Tucson , where the massacre occurred; there would be no change of venue motion. Judge Larry Burns asked that additional charges, including potential death penalty charges, be filed within 45 days -- a fast track former assistant US attorney Kurt Altman says would have to come from the top.

    Mr. KURT ALTMAN: The decision to seek the death penalty ultimately comes from Washington and, actually, ultimately comes from the attorney general himself, Eric Holder .

    TAIBBI: Defense attorney Judy Clarke specializes in gaining life sentences instead of the death penalty for defendants with overwhelming mental health issues, as Loughner 's known personal history seems to suggest.

    Mr. MARK KALISH (Psychiatrist): What you see is a portrait of somebody with a major mental illness of psychotic proportions.

    TAIBBI: Loughner left the courthouse under heavy police escort. In the meantime, the state now has its case to pursue on behalf of the other 11 who were injured and the four who were killed who were not federal employees.

    Mr. ALTMAN: Swift justice is justice. Justice delayed is, you know, unjust, as they say. Certainly they're going to want to go -- move forward.

    TAIBBI: Well, the clock has now started. The next court appearance in this case March 9th in Tucson . And by then, of course, federal sources are saying that Jared Loughner may for the first time know that he does, in fact, face

    the potential death penalty. Brian: Mike Taibbi starting us off in Phoenix , Arizona , tonight. Mike ,

    WILLIAMS:

updated 1/24/2011 4:14:14 PM ET 2011-01-24T21:14:14

Tucson shooting rampage suspect Jared Lee Loughner pleaded not guilty Monday to federal charges of attempting to assassinate U.S. Representative Gabrielle Giffords and attempting to murder two of her staff members.

A 22-year-old college dropout, Loughner is accused of opening fire on Giffords and a crowd of bystanders outside a grocery store in north Tucson on Jan. 8, killing six people, including a federal judge, and wounding 13. Giffords was shot in the head but survived.

Dressed in an orange prison jumpsuit and wearing wire-rimmed glasses, the shaved hair on his head starting to grow back, Loughner said nothing as the plea of not guilty was entered on his behalf.

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The shackled defendant was earlier seen smiling, nodding and chatting quietly with his lawyer, Judy Clarke, as the proceedings were about to begin.

U.S. District Judge Larry Burns of San Diego asked Clarke whether there was any question about her client's abilities to understand the case against him.

"We are not raising any issues at this time," Clarke said.

Investigators have said Loughner was mentally disturbed and acting increasingly erratic in the weeks leading up to the shooting. If he pleads not guilty by reason insanity and is successful, he could avoid the death penalty and be sent to a mental health facility instead of prison.

At least eight U.S. Marshals were present at the hearing in the Phoenix courthouse.

Prosecutor Wallace Kleindienst estimated that he would know within the next 30 days whether additional federal charges would be filed against Loughner. Kleindienst said prosecutors provided defense lawyers with records taken from Loughner's computer and documents of about 250 interviews made in the case.

Authorities have said Giffords, who remains hospitalized with a bullet wound to the head, was the gunman's primary target. Loughner later will face state charges dealing with the other victims.

Video: Loughner’s mental state to be major legal issue

Meanwhile, the Houston hospital treating Giffords said Sunday that her condition is improving daily, but gave no update on the buildup of brain fluid that has kept the Arizona congresswoman in intensive care.

A hospital statement said Giffords would continue to receive therapy "until her physicians determine she is ready for transfer" to a nearby center where she would begin a full rehabilitation program.

Giffords was flown to Memorial Hermann Texas Medical Center Hospital on Friday from Tucson. Shortly after her arrival, doctors said she had been given a tube to drain the excess fluid, which can cause pressure and swelling.

In the latest legal move, the U.S. attorney for Arizona in a court filing Sunday asked that the federal case be transferred back to Tucson for all further hearings.

The motion said all the victims and witnesses live in the Tucson area and should not be burdened by having to make a four-hour round-trip drive to Phoenix to attend court hearings. Local federal court rules also require that a crime that happens in the court's Tucson region should be tried there unless a court moves the case.

The case was moved to Phoenix because one of the six dead, U.S. District Judge John Roll, was based in Tucson and federal judges there recused themselves. All the federal judges in the rest of the state soon joined them, and a San Diego-based judge is now assigned to the case.

Video: Fluid buildup is setback for Giffords

Paul Charlton, who worked as Arizona's U.S. attorney from 2001 to 2007 and isn't involved in the Loughner case, believes Loughner will likely mount an insanity defense. "Given what we know, that's going to be a defense," Charlton said.

Investigators have said Loughner was mentally disturbed and acting increasingly erratic in the weeks leading up to the shooting. If he pleads not guilty by reason insanity and is successful, he could avoid the death penalty and be sent to a mental health facility instead of prison.

"It appears the actual guilt or innocent of the shooting will not be difficult to prove, and his pre-shooting behavior seems to be a history of erratic behavior — issues of pre-existing mental illness," said Michael Piccarreta, a Tucson lawyer who has practiced criminal defense in federal court for 30 years.

Before the case even gets to trial, the court would have to decide whether Loughner is mentally competent. If he isn't, he would be sent to a federal facility for a minimum of four months to see if they can restore his competency. It could be up to a two-month wait just to get him into one of those facilities.

One area that will help the pace of the case is the fact that it's a relatively simple investigation. Authorities have said Loughner acted alone, and dozens of people witnessed the shooting and surveillance cameras captured it on tape.

Investigators say they have also seized writings from Loughner in which he used words like "I planned ahead," "My assassination" and "Giffords."

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Pima County Attorney Barbara LaWall has the discretion to decide whether to seek the death penalty against Loughner in the state case, while the federal decision on whether to seek the death penalty rests with Arizona U.S. Attorney Dennis Burke and Attorney General Eric Holder, Charlton said. Prosecutors haven't signaled whether they would pursue the death penalty, but experts say all signs point toward that.

Defense lawyers could ask that the case be moved out of Arizona by arguing that extensive negative publicity would make it impossible for Loughner to get a fair trial.

There was so much speculation that San Diego would ultimately be the home for the trial that federal authorities were prompted to issue a statement last week denying the reports and saying it's way too early in the case to discuss. The presiding over the case works out of San Diego, and Loughner's court-appointed lawyer, Judy Clarke, is based there as well.

Clarke has not responded to requests seeking comment. She is one of the top lawyers in the country for defendants facing prominent death penalty cases, having represented clients such "Unabomber" Ted Kaczynski and Olympic bomber Eric Rudolph. She has a reputation for working out plea deals that spare defendants the death penalty, as was the case for Rudolph and Kaczynski.

Reuters and The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Photos: Former Ariz. Representative Gabrielle Giffords

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  1. Gabrielle Giffords, the former congresswoman who was shot and left handicapped after a gunman opened fire at an event in Tucson, Ariz., and her husband retired Navy Capt. Mark Kelly prepare to testify before a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on gun violence in Washington, D.C., on Jan. 2013. (Jim Lo Scalzo / EPA) Back to slideshow navigation
  2. U.S. Senator Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., former U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords and her husband, former astronaut Mark Kelly, leave the Newtown Municipal Building in Newtown, Conn. on Jan. 4, 2013. Giffords met with Newtown officials on Friday afternoon before heading to visit with families of the victims of the Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre. (Michelle Mcloughlin / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  3. Gabrielle Giffords waves to the Space Shuttle Endeavor with her husband, former astronaut Mark Kelly as it flies over Tucson, Ariz. on its way to Los Angeles, on Sept. 20, 2012. Kelly served as Endeavour's last space commander months after Giffords survived serious head injuries because of a 2011 shooting. (P.K. Weis / Southwest Photo Bank via AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  4. Gabrielle Giffords blows a kiss after reciting the Pledge of Allegiance during the final session of the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte, N.C. on Sept. 6, 2012. (Eric Thayer / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  5. Gabrielle Giffords stands on top of a peak in the French Alps with her husband Mark Kelly, right,, and mountain guide Vincent Lameyre, July 23, 2012. On her first trip out of the country since her injury in 2011, she rode a two-stage cable car to a station for spectacular views of Mont Blanc. (Denis Balibouse / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  6. Ron Barber, right, celebrates his victory with Giffords, left, prior to speaking to supporters at a post election event, Tuesday, June 12, 2012, in Tucson, Ariz. Barber, Giffords' former district director, won her seat in a special election after she resigned to focus on her recovery. (Ross D. Franklin / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  7. Democratic Florida Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, read Rep. Gabriell Giffords resignation speech on the House floor on Wednesday, Jan. 25, 2012. The day after President Obama's State of the Union speech, Giffords formally offered her resignation to Speaker John Boehner. Weeping, Shultz applauded the strength of her friend and colleague, "I'm so proud of my friend." (MSNBC) Back to slideshow navigation
  8. President Barack Obama hugs retiring Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords as the president arrives to deliver his State of the Union address on Tuesday, Jan. 24, 2012. (Pool / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  9. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, D-Ariz., left, and Pelosi, right, posing with Giffords husband, former astronaut Mark Kelly of the Navy, at his retirement ceremony with Vice President Joe Biden in the Old Executive Office Building on the White House complex in Washington, Thursday, Oct. 6, 2011. (House Leader Nancy Pelosi's office / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  10. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords returns to the House for the first time since she was shot, making a dramatic entrance on Monday, Aug. 1, 2011, during a crucial debt vote. She drew loud applause and cheers from surprised colleagues. (NBC News) Back to slideshow navigation
  11. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords poses for a photo the day after the launch of NASA space shuttle Endeavour and the day before she had her cranioplasty surgery, outside TIRR Memorial Hermann Hospital May 17, in Houston, Texas. Aides of Rep. Gabrielle Giffords posted two recent photos of the congresswoman to her public Facebook page, the first since the January 8 shooting that killed six people and wounded a dozen others. (P.K. Weis / Giffords Campaign / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  12. Emergency workers use a stretcher to move Rep. Gabrielle Giffords after she was shot in the head outside a shopping center in Tucson, Ariz., on Saturday, Jan. 8, 2011. (James Palka / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  13. In this Jan. 5, 2011 file photo, House Speaker John Boehner re-enacts the swearing in of Rep. Gabrielle Giffords on Capitol Hill in Washington. (Susan Walsh / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  14. Rep. Giffords, left, speaks during a candidates debate with Republican candidate Jesse Kelly at the University of Arizona in Tucson, Ariz., on Oct. 18, 2010. Kelly is an Iraq War veteran and was the Tea Party favorite for the 8th congressional district seat. (Joshua Lott / The New York Times via Redux Pictures) Back to slideshow navigation
  15. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords meets with constituents in Douglas, Ariz., in 2010. Giffords, 40, took office in January 2007, emphasizing issues such as immigration reform, embryonic stem-cell research, alternative energy sources and a higher minimum wage. (Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  16. Rep. Giffords speaks during a press conference in Washington, D.C., where members of Congress called on the President to secure the border with the National Guard on April 28, 2010. (James Berglie / Zuma Press) Back to slideshow navigation
  17. This picture provided by the office of Rep. Gabrielle Giffords on Monday, March 22, 2010, shows damage to her office in Tucson, Ariz. The congressional office was vandalized a few hours after the House vote overhauling the nation's health care system. (AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  18. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, D-Ariz., center, gives a tour of Statuary Hall in the Capitol to Shuttle Discovery STS-124 astronauts Mission Specialist Akihiko Hoshide, of Japan, and her husband, Commander Mark Kelly, on Thursday, July 17, 2008. (Bill Clark / Roll Call Photos) Back to slideshow navigation
  19. From right. Rep. Ken Calvert, Rep. Dennis Moore, Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, and Rep. Heath Shuler, attend a House Ways and Means Subcommittee on Social Security hearing on current and proposed employment eligibility verification systems on May 6, 2008. The hearing provided a forum for lawmakers on both sides of the immigration debate, focusing on a system to verify the legal status of workers and job applicants. (Scott J. Ferrell) Back to slideshow navigation
  20. Gabrielle Giffords with U.S. Navy Cmdr. Mark Kelly, a NASA astronaut, at their wedding in Amado, Ariz., on Nov. 10, 2007. Kelly's twin brother, also an astronaut, is a commander on the International Space Station. "We have a unique vantage point here aboard the International Space Station. As I look out the window, I see a very beautiful planet that seems very inviting and peaceful. Unfortunately, it is not," said Scott Kelly of the tragedy that befell his sister-in-law. (Norma Jean Gargasz for The New York Times / Redux Pictures) Back to slideshow navigation
  21. Representatives-elect including Dean Heller, top right, and Gabrielle Giffords, next to Heller, prepare for the freshman class picture for the 110th Congress on the House Steps on Nov. 14, 2006. (Tom Williams / Roll Call Photos) Back to slideshow navigation
  22. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords rides horseback in 2006. In an interview with NPR last year, she recalled working with horses during her adolescence in Tucson. "I loved cleaning out the stalls, and I did that in exchange for riding lessons. And I continue to ride most of my life. And I learned a lot from horses and the stable people ... I think it provided good training, all of that manure-shoveling, for my days in politics ahead." (Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  23. A page entitled, "Just do it!" in La Semeuse, the Scripps College yearbook in 1993. The photo at right shows Giffords in traditional Mennonite clothing. That same year, she won a Fulbright award to study Mennonites and other Anabaptist groups in Northern Mexico. Gifford's senior thesis was titled "Wish Books and Felt-Tipped Fantasies: The Sociology of Old Colony Mennonite Drawings." (Scripps College) Back to slideshow navigation
  24. Gabrielle Giffords' senior portrait from the 1993 Scripps College yearbook. Giffords double-majored in Latin American studies and sociology. A Dean's List student, Gifford won several awards during her time at Scripps. (Scripps College) Back to slideshow navigation
  25. Gabrielle Giffords, right, laughs with her mom, Gloria Kay Fraser Giffords, in a photo published in the Scripps College yearbook. Gabrielle received a B.A. in Sociology and Latin American history from Scripps College in Claremont, Calif. in 1993. (Scripps College) Back to slideshow navigation
  26. University High School portrait of Gabrielle Giffords, class of 1988. Dr. John Hosmer, taught history to the future lawmaker. He tells msnbc.com, "Gabrielle sat in the front row. She was inquisitive ... She was a very mature person from the moment she walked in the door." (University High School) Back to slideshow navigation
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    Above: Slideshow (26) Former Ariz. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords
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