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Appeals court: Loughner to return to Missouri mental hospital

By Michael Martinez, CNN
updated 7:13 PM EDT, Fri October 7, 2011
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Jared Lee Loughner wanted to stay in Tucson while he appeals a lower court ruling
  • But a federal appeals court panel rules he can be returned to a Missouri hospital
  • Loughner is accused in Arizona shooting spree

Los Angeles (CNN) -- A federal appeals court Friday denied a request by Arizona shooting rampage suspect Jared Lee Loughner to keep him temporarily out of a federal mental hospital while he appeals a lower court ruling.

Loughner, 23, asked for a stay of his imminent transfer back to the federal hospital in Missouri, where he is receiving involuntary medication and psychiatric treatment, according to court documents.

But the U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals said Friday that Loughner can be returned to the hospital.

Loughner wanted to remain in Tucson, Arizona, where this week a U.S. District Court judge ruled Loughner was "getting better" and should continue his current mental health treatment plan.

Loughner is now appealing that lower court ruling to the U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals.

In the meantime, the Ninth Circuit court denied Loughner's request for a stay of his transfer back to the hospital while he appeals the lower court ruling.

"Loughner moves on an emergency basis for a stay of his imminent transportation from pretrial custody in Tucson, Arizona, to the Federal Medical Center in Springfield, Missouri, pending appeal of the district court's ruling authorizing his recommitment," a three-judge appeals panel said in its ruling.

"Loughner has been determined to require psychiatric treatment and will be involuntarily medicated for the immediate future whether or not he is transported to the Missouri facility," the panel ruled. "As he therefore has not demonstrated any irreparable harm that is probable if the stay is not granted, we deny the emergency motion."

Loughner is charged with killing six people -- including the chief federal judge of Arizona, John Roll -- in a supermarket parking lot in Tucson on January 8. He also allegedly wounded 13 people, including U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, D-Arizona, who was shot in the head.

A federal judge determined Monday that Loughner is "getting better," further ruling that the suspect should continue to take anti-psychotic medications as his appeal works its way through the courts.

U.S. District Court Judge Larry Burns said there was a "substantial probability" that Loughner will be restored to competency and be able to stand trial for his role in the mass shooting. He refused to alter Loughner's current mental health treatment plan, pointing to his observations that the suspect has improved in recent months.

"There is overwhelming evidence that the defendant is getting better, not the least of which is the noticeable improvement in his appearance, demeanor and behavior since he was last in court," the judge said in his six-page order.

Loughner, 23, may face the death penalty if convicted. His purported target was Giffords, who has been undergoing intensive rehabilitation since being shot in the head.

The suspect has been diagnosed as schizophrenic and has spent time on suicide watch while in custody and undergoing treatment in Springfield, Missouri.

In May, a federal appeals court cleared the way for him to be forcibly medicated, over the objections of Loughner and his attorney.

A hearing last month addressed those objections. During it, both the judge and mental health experts noted that Loughner was able to sit calmly during the hours-long proceeding, court sources said. He had been removed from a courtroom in May after an outburst, reported CNN affiliate KGUN.

Prosecutors have written in court documents that Loughner has expressed "regret for the circumstances that led to his arrest." When he was asked whether he thought about harming himself, he said, "I want to die. Give me the injection. Kill me now," the documents said.

The defense team argues the state has failed to prove Loughner's condition will improve enough for him to stand trial.

Several mental health experts testified last month, including Loughner's "daily, treating psychologist" Dr. Christina Pietz and an outside expert psychiatrist, Dr. James Ballenger.

Based in large part on their assessment of the suspect's improvement under his current medical regimen -- including the prescribed medications -- Burns decided it was best not to change Loughner's treatment.

"The testimony of (Pietz and Ballenger) established the likelihood and substantial probability that the defendant will continue to get better and can be restored to competency to stand trial in four months time," the judge wrote.

CNN's Karan Olson and Bill Mears contributed to this report.

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