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Jared Loughner expected to plead guilty to Tucson shootings today

TUCSON --  Jared Lee Loughner is to be escorted by U.S. marshals Tuesday morning into the federal courthouse here where, after a judge rules him mentally competent, he is scheduled to plead guilty to the January 2011 shooting rampage that left six dead and severely wounded then-Rep. Gabrielle Giffords and a dozen others.

For more than a year Loughner has been held at a federal prison hospital in Springfield, Mo., where psychiatric experts have repeatedly examined his mental capacity after strong indications that he not did not understand what happened at the shooting here, did not comprehend the potential death penalty charges against him and was unable to assist his defense.

But recently the mental health experts advised U.S. District Judge Larry A. Burns that the 23-year-old Loughner now understands that he shot Giffords, and also killed six people and wounded 12 others. Now his attorneys and federal prosecutors have worked out an arrangement for him to plead guilty. The hearing is scheduled to start Tuesday about 11 a.m. Pacific time.

TIMELINE: Deadliest U.S. mass shootings

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Loughner’s conviction would come amidst a burst of recent shooting rampages -- in Colorado and Wisconsin -- and many of Loughner’s Tucson victims think the plea agreement here, which likely will send Loughner to prison for life with no parole, is a just end to the case.

Last year he was so confused and agitated during a pre-trial hearing that he burst out screaming in the courtroom and had to be restrained and removed.

The spate of shootings has prompted more calls for tighter gun control and more help for mentally ill people with access to firearms.

As Loughner’s hearing gets underway in the U.S. District Courthouse, the Tucson City Council will be voting on a “Fix Gun Checks” proposal to require background checks for every gun sale in the city and improve reporting of mental health records to the National Instant Criminal Background Check System.

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Many of the Tucson survivors strongly support the measure.

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richard.serrano@latimes.com 


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