Other supporters of the victims said they are disturbed that the ruling will keep the spotlight on Loughner.
“I can’t say I’m shocked that someone would determine that he’s nuts,” said Michael McNulty, Giffords’s campaign chairman, who visited her in the hospital this month.
The judge’s ruling came after he reviewed the findings of two court-appointed mental-health professionals who had examined Loughner during his five months at the federal facility in Springfield.
Psychologist Christina Pietz and psychiatrist Matthew Carroll agreed that Loughner’s behavior met the standard of mental incompetence.
Sherwood stressed that Loughner will “stay at the Bureau of Prisons indefinitely if he is deemed a danger to the public or himself. And we’ve made a pretty good argument for that. If anywhere down the line his condition improves, if he snaps out of it, the charges will be reinstated.”
Loughner will be treated by doctors, who likely will prescribe medication to treat psychosis. If he refuses the drugs, the court could petition Burns to order forcible treatment, such as injections, experts said.
John Zwerling, a defense lawyer in Alexandria who is not involved in the case, said that such a scenario could raise complicated legal questions.
“There have been cases where people on death row were deemed so psychotic that they do not know what is happening,” Zwerling said. “The question was, would the court order that he be forcibly given medication so that he is sane enough that they could kill him? And then what are doctors ethically able to do?”
In the months and years before the shooting, Loughner exhibited delusional behavior that alarmed those who knew him, according to records and interviews.
Last week, Pima Community College, which Loughner attended, released a trove of documents after a judge granted a public-records request by the Arizona Republic. The 255 pages included e-mails Loughner sent to teachers, complaining about his grades — and notes from teachers who had grown increasingly concerned about his behavior.
They worried that he might have weapons, the documents show.
One student complained that Loughner put a small knife on his desk during class, prompting her to send an e-mail to the professor.
Another e-mail shows that the administration asked campus police to look into Loughner’s background.
At one point, the school appears to have contacted the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives to find out whether he had a gun.
The college kicked him out after he allegedly posted a YouTube video showing him wandering the campus and at one point stating, “this is my genocide school.”
Staff researcher Magda Jean-Louis contributed to this report.