Medicated Jared Loughner set to plead guilty

(CBS News) TUCSON - Jared Lee Loughner is headed to court in Tucson this morning, where he is ready to admit shooting six people to death last year and wounding 13 others, including Rep. Gabrielle Giffords.

The question is, will the judge agree that Loughner is mentally competent to plead guilty?

Loughner arrived in Tucson on Monday, escorted by federal marshals. For the past year, he's been treated for mental illness at a federal facility in Missouri. Now the success of that treatment will be the focus of Tuesday's hearing.

Almost immediately after his arrest, there were questions about Jared Loughner's mental state. Soon after the shootings a videotape surfaced on YouTube, of Loughner (from behind the camera) ranting as he walked around his college campus, putting his bizarre behavior on public display.

Psychiatrists at a federal medical prison in Missouri found him depressed, paranoid and schizophrenic.

Last year Judge Larry A. Burns deemed him mentally unfit to stand trial.

But Tuesday Loughner is set to tell that same judge he now is competent enough to plead guilty.

"I'm sure the judge is going to talk to Mr. Loughner, he's going to ask him some questions, he's going to engage in some kind of a dialogue, so that the judge is convinced that he does understand what's going on," former federal prosecutor A. Bates Butler III told CBS News.

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It seems Loughner is not the same man who court documents described last year as experiencing auditory hallucinations, pacing for hours in his cell and crying frequently, throwing chairs, toilet paper, even spitting on his attorney.

Since last month, doctors have been forcibly administering drugs to control his behavior.

Butler said that, under our court system, Loughner may be deemed competent because of the drugs he is taking.

Though most people might consider the Tucson shooting the act of a madman, defense attorneys know insanity is hard to prove in court.

Attorney Brian Levin, of the Center for Study of Hate and Extremism at California State University, San Bernardino, told CBS, "The insanity defense is far less common than people think. Less than one percent of felonies" have successfully used an insanity defense.

Levin said both defense and prosecution find a plea bargain appealing.

"In exchange he's going to get life in prison, and that's the key here," Levin said. "The federal government gets him to admit that what he did is wrong and that he knew it, and the defense gets to save his life."

Survivors of the shooting will be in court and many wonder which Jared Loughner will show up - the one made more coherent through heavy medication, or the angry, rambling Loughner who destroyed so many lives.

On "CBS This Morning," CBS News legal analyst Jack Ford said the standard for competency to stand trial that Loughner faces, which is different from what his mental state was at the time of the shooting, is whether he understand the charges against him.

"Do you realize why you're there? And can you assist in your defense? Can you help your lawyer when your lawyer says 'OK, do you remember what you were doing at the time? What witnesses can we get?'

"So it's a very limited threshold standard, important in terms of a trial, but in some ways, it might have nothing to do with the issue of whether you were actually criminally insane at the time that the act took place.

"So the judge has to be satisfied here - especially with this history, where you have psychiatrists coming in and saying 'There's no doubt - this guy just can't stand trial. We've got to do some things, including the forcible medication, before maybe we can get there.'

"Now the judge will have to decide and there will be conversations between the psychiatrists and with the defendant himself before the judge says either yes or no, we're okay to proceed," said Ford.

To watch Bill Whitaker's report and an interview with legal analyst Jack Ford, click on the video player above.

  • Bill Whitaker

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