The Loughner Trial


What does the future hold for Tucson psychopath Jared Loughner?  About a year’s worth of legal maneuvering, for starters.

Fox News expects the case to “marked by a breathtaking number of motions, as defense attorney Judy Clarke seeks to spare her client from the death penalty.”  The Arizona federal judiciary is already out of the game, since one of Loughner’s victims was their chief judge, John Roll.  San Diego judge Larry Burns, whose district borders on Arizona, will be handling the trial.  Clarke is also trying to bar Arizona prosecutors from working the case.

A motion for change of venue is likely, although Fox’s Judson Berger gingerly points out that finding an impartial jury anywhere in America will be a tall order.  Then we’re off to the insanity defense, in which the rather obvious truth that Loughner is nuts will be measured against the equally clear evidence that he carefully planned his crime in advance.

Of course, the local sheriff has been working overtime to build the case that Loughner isn’t really responsible for his actions, since he was set off by Rush Limbaugh, Sarah Palin, and a lot of other people.  There’s no evidence for any of this, which in a sane world would be brought up at the sheriff’s trial, but it would be surprising if the defense didn’t mention it.

If the insanity plea is made skillfully enough, and the case goes to prosecutors who drop the ball, it’s possible Loughner will never stand trial at all.  If he’s ruled incompetent, he’ll be whisked away to a mental facility, which would have been a smashing idea six months ago.  It won’t seem like a very good ending to a story that includes six dead people, one of them a 9-year-old girl.

This could very well be one of those trials that turns into an Al Pacino rant, in which “the system” is prosecuted as the real culprit.  The history of previous encounters between Loughner and law enforcement, culminating in a traffic stop by an Arizona Game and Fish officer just three hours before the shooting, suggests numerous times when he could have been brought under control.  The defense could argue that a government which failed Loughner so comprehensively has no right to execute him.

And, of course, the trial itself is going to be an absolute circus, which will make it possible to insist there’s no way Loughner could get a fair trail.

It’s a bedrock principle of our judicial system that everyone gets a defense, even when they’re tackled on camera after pumping bullets into 19 people.  On the other hand, the endless torture of the Loughner trial is going to look crazy to an angry, heartbroken public that wonders why it’s not just a matter of selecting the proper level of voltage to pump through his chair.  This trial will be important, but it will not be pretty.