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Accused Arizona gunman ruled incompetent for trial

TUCSON, Ariz (Reuters) - Arizona shooting suspect Jared Loughner is not mentally competent to stand trial on charges he killed six people and wounded U.S. Representative Gabrielle Giffords, a federal judge ruled Wednesday.

Tuscon shooting rampage suspect Jared Lee Loughner is pictured in this undated booking photograph released by the U.S. Marshals Service on February 22, 2011. REUTERS/U.S. Marshals Service/Handout

U.S. District Judge Larry Burns said Loughner, 22, was incapable of understanding the proceedings against him and assisting in his own defence.

Loughner, described by his lawyers as “gravely mentally ill,” rocked back and forth in his chair during the hearing and was dragged shouting from the courtroom before the ruling.

“She died in front of me,” he went on as marshals hustled him out.

The judge cited the conclusions of two experts, a forensic psychiatrist and a clinical psychologist, that Loughner suffers from schizophrenia, disordered thinking and delusions.

Burns ruled Loughner will remain in custody at a prison hospital and set a hearing for September 21 to determine whether his condition has improved enough for proceedings to resume.

Loughner is accused of opening fire with a semiautomatic pistol on Giffords and a crowd of bystanders attending a political gathering outside a Tucson supermarket in January.

Six people, including a federal judge, were killed and 13 were wounded.

Giffords, a Democratic member of Congress from Arizona, is undergoing rehabilitation after being shot in the head but was able to travel to Florida this month to see her astronaut husband blast off on the latest space shuttle mission.

Loughner pleaded not guilty in March to 49 charges over the rampage at the “Congress on Your Corner” event, including multiple counts of first-degree murder. Prosecutors had not decided whether to seek the death penalty.

Loughner will return to the federal prison hospital in Springfield, Missouri, where the college dropout spent five weeks undergoing psychiatric evaluation.

Prosecutors asked for that review in March, citing widely publicized accounts of erratic behaviour in the months before the shooting, including videos posted on YouTube in which Loughner talks about mistrust of government and mind control.

U.S. Attorney for Arizona Dennis Burke said his office was preparing to proceed with its case against Loughner.

“We are looking forward to him being returned to Springfield and that efforts are made to restore him to competency,” Burke told reporters. “Our goal has always been, and will always be, to go to trial in this case.”

Writing by Steve Gorman; Editing by Greg McCune and John O’Callaghan