Loughner, suspect in Giffords shooting, back in Tucson after mental exams

As Rep. Gabrielle Giffords learned about the delay of her husband’s launch of the last flight of the space shuttle Endeavour at Cape Canaveral, Fla., the case against the man accused of shooting her in the head in January was proceeding in federal court in Arizona, focusing on his mental state.

Jared Lee Loughner was taken back to Tucson on Thursday after undergoing mental exams in Missouri, said David Gonzales, the U.S. marshal in Arizona. He had spent five weeks at a federal prison facility in Springfield, Mo., Gonzales said.

Loughner has pleaded not guilty to a 49-count indictment in the shootings that killed six people and wounded 13 at a Tucson meet-and-greet held by the Democratic Arizona congresswoman.

Although it is not clear whether Loughner’s attorneys will mount an insanity defense, experts in high-profile cases have said the attorneys probably will focus on using his troubled mental state to keep him off death row. Prosecutors are expected to counter any insanity defense with evidence that they say shows that Loughner meticulously planned the shootings.

Government prosecutors have not said whether they will seek the death penalty.

On Wednesday, a federal judge ordered that records from Loughner’s pediatrician and from a facility that treated him for intoxication in 2006 be turned over to a court-appointed doctor in Missouri who is examining his competency to stand trial. The government had sought the order, which defense lawyers had opposed.

A mental competency hearing in the case is set for May 25, according to court documents.

On Friday afternoon, NASA officials called off the shuttle launch scheduled for later in the day for at least 72 hours after detecting a problem with a heater on the spacecraft’s auxiliary power unit. Giffords’s husband, Mark E. Kelly, is the flight commander.

Jerry Markon covers the Department of Homeland Security for the Post’s National Desk. He also serves as lead Web and newspaper writer for major breaking national news.

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