Jared Lee Loughner didn’t speak during his brief arraignment in federal court in Phoenix yesterday. But he grinned as he was led into the courtroom, staring straight ahead during most of the proceeding, except for one point when he looked up at the gallery of reporters and smiled. The court entered a plea of not guilty on charges of attempted assassination, for the shooting of Gabrielle Giffords, and attempted murder of federal employees. New charges are expected to come in an indictment that would supersede current ones. It’s likely to include murder of a federal official, which can come with the death penalty. Since any potential death penalties require extensive review, prosecutors said they would try to file before a status hearing slated for March 9. Loughner’s lawyer, Judy Clarke, didn’t oppose the prosecution’s motion to move the proceedings to Tucson, since that’s where the majority of the witnesses are based. Clarke can still petition for a change of venue at a later date, especially considering she said the case shouldn’t be tried in Arizona at an earlier hearing.
Legal experts said Loughner’s mental state at the time of the shooting will likely be used by the defense, despite the difficulty of winning with an insanity defense. When the judge asked, Clarke said she was not raising the issue of whether Loughner would be able to assist her in his defense, adding, “perhaps later.” For now, she has to comb through 45 discs with material from her client’s computer as well 250 interviews from witnesses handed over by the prosecution.