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Accused Tucson shooter Jared Loughner will face several more charges after he is tried in federal court for the attempted assassination of Rep. Gabriel Giffords and attempted murder of two of her aides, prosecutors said on Friday.
The 22-year-old college dropout is accused of opening fire on a crowd of bystanders outside a Giffords event at a grocery store on January 8, killing six people and wounding 13.
On January 24, he pleaded not guilty to federal charges of attempting to assassinate Giffords and attempting to murder two of her staff members in the shooting spree that occurred in Arizona’s Pima County, which surrounds Tucson.
In a joint statement released on Friday, U.S. Attorney Dennis K. Burke and Pima County Attorney Barbara LaWall said that they could not proceed with state and local charges against Loughner until the federal case is complete.
“As required by the statute, once those charges have been fully prosecuted through the federal court system, Arizona state charges will be prosecuted by the Pima County Attorney’s Office,” the statement said.
“These cases will be tried in sequence and will ensure that all rights of the victims and their families are vindicated,” it added.
In addition to the charges for the attempted murder of Giffords and her aides, federal charges are expected to be filed for the murders of federal judge John Roll and Giffords’ aide Gabe Zimmerman.
After that, Loughren could be charged by Pima County with all six murders — even if he has been convicted already of murdering Roll and Zimmerman — as well as for aggravated assault, attempted murder and endangerment, Lawall said.
“There could be considerable delay and that makes me distraught for the victims who are going to have to wait for justice,” Lawall told Reuters.
Giffords was shot through the head but survived, and is currently undergoing intensive rehabilitation in Texas.
The shooting rampage reignited a national debate about gun control and triggered soul searching about whether vitriol in U.S. politics had encouraged violence against elected officials — although motives for the attack remain unclear.
In a separate development, prosecutors asked Judge Larry Burns to order Loughner to submit hand-writing samples for possible evidence at the trial.
The samples are sought to see if they match “handwritten references to the Member of Congress the defendant is accused of attempting to assassinate, as well as references to guns and bullets” found at his home, prosecutors said in documents lodged at the court.
Investigators have said they found an envelope at Loughner’s home with hand-written phrases that said “I planned ahead” and “My assassination.” The name “Giffords” also was found and what appeared to be Loughner’s signature.
Additional notebooks with Loughner’s handwriting also were found, prosecutors said.
Loughner could face up to life in prison for trying to kill the lawmaker and the other two attempted murder charges carry a maximum sentence of 20 years.
Copyright © 2011 Reuters