Guilty Verdict for Jared Loughner May Be Tough

There were dozens of witnesses.

"He shot the lady next to me," said Patricia Maisch, who's credited with keeping the alleged shooter from reloading his weapon.

CBS News chief legal correspondent Jan Crawford reports even with all the evidence against Jared Loughner, this could be one of those rare cases where a guilty verdict is difficult and the death penalty almost impossible.

"This is going to be a case that's going to focus on mental health issues," said former federal defender Barry Boss.

Medical experts say Loughner - who wrote that the government practiced mind control - was probably schizophrenic.

Complete Coverage: Tragedy in Tucson

For his defense, Loughner will have one of the best. Judy Clarke has represented Unabomber Ted Kaczynski, the Atlanta Olympics bomber Erik Rudolph and Susan Smith, the South Carolina woman who drowned her children. All three were facing the death penalty. All three instead were sentenced to life.

"[Clarke] has a special expertise in cases involving mental disorder," said University of Virginia professor Richard Bonnie.

Pictures: Jared Loughner
Pictures: Arizona Shooting Victims
Pictures: Rep. Gabrielle Giffords

In defending Loughner, attorneys said Clarke's first battle will be proving he's not even mentally competent to stand trial.

"You wonder whether this young man's delusions will interfere with his ability to have a rational understanding - because that's what the law requires - a rational understanding of the court process," said Boss.

Barry Boss had a similar case: Russell Weston, who in 1998 shot and killed two Capitol Police officers. Weston was diagnosed as a paranoid schizophrenic and ruled incompetent to stand trial.

If a judge says Loughner is competent for trial, Clarke is widely expected to then raise an insanity defense.

That defense rarely works. An exception is John Hinckley, who tried to kill President Reagan, and was found not guilty by reason of insanity. Confined indefinitely to a mental institution, Hinckley now has freedom to leave the facility for unsupervised visits with his family.

If Loughner is convicted of the crimes the insanity defense could still help him avoid the death penalty as it did for those other clients of Judy Clarke.
  • Jan Crawford On Twitter» On Facebook»

    Jan Crawford is CBS News Chief Political and Legal Correspondent. She is from "Crossroads," Alabama.

Comments

CBSN Live

pop-out
Live Video

Follow Us

Watch CBSN Live

Watch CBS News anytime, anywhere with the new 24/7 digital news network. Stream CBSN live or on demand for FREE on your TV, computer, tablet, or smartphone.

On Twitter