SAN DIEGO (Reuters) - A federal judge on Wednesday refused to order prison officials to stop forcibly medicating Tucson shooting suspect Jared Lee Loughner with psychotropic drugs, saying he would defer to the judgment of doctors.
U.S. District Judge Larry Burns rejected an emergency petition to halt the procedure filed by lawyers for Loughner, 22, who argued that it violated his constitutional rights.
Defense lawyers also argued during a hearing in U.S. District Court in San Diego that the college dropout, who Burns has found mentally incompetent to stand trial, was being given more potent medication than was required.
Loughner, who is incarcerated at a prison hospital in Missouri, was not in court for the hearing in U.S. District Court in San Diego.
He is accused of opening fire on U.S. Representative Gabrielle Giffords and a crowd of bystanders attending a political gathering outside a Tucson supermarket on January 8.
Loughner pleaded not guilty in March to 49 charges stemming from the shooting rampage, including multiple counts of first-degree murder.
“I defer to the medical judgment, that’s what I choose to do,” Burns said in issuing his ruling. “I have no reason to disagree with the doctors here. I am not trained in medicine and these folks are. They labor in this vineyard every day.”
“I agree its an anathema to free people to have narcotics and heavy drugs forced on them, it takes a powerful justification for government to do that, Burns said.
Loughner’s defense team filed their emergency petition with Burns after learning that the U.S. Bureau of Prisons had ordered the forced medication after an administrative hearing.
Prosecutors said Loughner was afforded his rights during the hearing, which was held after he declined to voluntarily take medication.
In court filings, prosecutors said that during an interview with a court-appointed psychologist in March, Loughner became enraged and twice threw a plastic chair at her.
“Mr Loughner is passive-aggressive,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Wallace Kleindienst said during the hearing.
“He was thankful to the peace officer who gave him a ticket that morning (of the shooting). He was thankful to the clerk at Safeway who sold him a bottle of water. And then he killed six people and injured 13 others. He had enough bullets to kill 40 more people,” Kleindienst said.
Giffords, a third-term Democrat, is still recovering from a single gunshot wound to her head.
“He believes that anyone who thinks he did not kill Gabrielle Giffords is part of a conspiracy against him,” Kleindienst said.
At the competency hearing in May, Burns cited the conclusions of two medical experts that Loughner suffers from schizophrenia, disordered thinking and delusions.
The judge has set a hearing for September 21 to determine whether Loughner’s condition had improved enough for the proceedings against him to resume.
Writing by Dan Whitcomb, Editing by Peter Bohan