Tucson victims face shooting suspect in court

Shooting suspect Jared Lee Loughner appears before U.S. District Judge Larry Burns in this courtroom sketch, March 9, 2011. clothes

TUCSON, Ariz. - Until Jared Loughner entered a Tucson courtroom Wednesday, my only image of him was from that first unsettling booking photo showing a strange smile under a shaved head. The young man who shuffled into court with his hands and feet in chains looked different with a full head of short, dark hair and long sideburns, but the smile remained unmistakable.

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The courtroom is small, just 75 seats. Family members of some of the six who were killed sat with a victims' advocate. Two of those who were wounded, Susan Hileman and retired Army Col. Bill Badger, sat in the front row. For the first time since the shooting, they were here to look Loughner in the face. Badger, whose skull was grazed by a bullet and who is one of those who tackled the gunman, stared at Loughner sternly.

(Watch Blackstone's courthouse report from Wednesday's "CBS Evening News" above)

I sat in the second row, just behind Hileman. She was hit three times and came to court in a wheelchair. She has said she had to be at the hearing because it is what Christina Taylor Green, the 9-year-old girl who died in the shooting, would have wanted. Hileman took Christina, the youngest person killed in the shooting, to meet Rep. Gabrielle Giffords that morning.

Before Loughner entered the courtroom, Hileman seemed nervous, often tightly gripping the hand of her husband Bill. When she first saw the man accused of killing the little girl whose hand she held, she briefly looked close to tears. But Hileman regained her composure and for most of the hearing looked toward Loughner exhibiting only strength. I am sure she was thinking it is what Christina would want her to do.

Loughner wore a tan jumpsuit and was surrounded by U.S. marshals. He spent much of the more than hour long hearing smiling for no apparent reason. He spoke only three words. Asked by the clerk if his name was Jared Lee Loughner, he responded in a strange singsong voice, "Yes. It is!"

When asked how he pleaded his attorney answered for him, "not guilty."

Loughner maintained his smile during a long discussion about a prosecution request to have him undergo a psychiatric evaluation to determine if he is competent to stand trial. It was striking that U.S. District Judge Larry Burns seemed to have his own doubts about Loughner's mental state. The judge ordered the psychiatric evaluation and a competency hearing in late May.

When the hearing ended, Loughner was quickly moved out a side door, never looking back at those in the courtroom whose lives were changed forever by that Saturday morning shooting.

  • John Blackstone

    From his base in San Francisco, CBS News correspondent John Blackstone covers breaking stories throughout the West. That often means he is on the scene of wildfires, earthquakes, floods, hurricanes and rumbling volcanoes. He also reports on the high-tech industry in Silicon Valley and on social and economic trends that frequently begin in the West.