Federal judge appointed to hear Arizona shooting case

[JURIST] A California federal judge was appointed Thursday to hear the trial of Arizona shooting [NYT backgrounder] suspect Jared Loughner. Judge Alex Kozinski [official biography] of the US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit [official website] appointed Judge Larry Burns [Judgepedia profile] of the US District Court for the Southern District of California [official website] to preside over federal proceedings against Loughner in connection with the high-profile shooting at a political rally outside a Safeway in Tuscon, Arizona, that took the lives of a nine-year-old girl, Chief Judge John Roll [WSJ profile] of the US District Court for the District of Arizona [official website] and four others. Fourteen others were injured in the incident, including Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-AZ). Burns, who was appointed by President George W. Bush in 2003, has experience trying high-profile felony cases. In 2007, he presided over the trial of Mexican drug lord Francisco Javier Arellano [JURIST report; press release] and in 2005 over the high-profile prosecution [JURIST report; plea agreement, PDF] of former Rep. Randall Cunningham (R-CA) on bribery charges. The appointment comes one day after all federal judges in Arizona recused themselves [AP report] from the case following an order Wednesday from US District Judge Roslyn Silver advising on the impartiality pitfalls that would be implicated if the case were heard by an Arizona federal judge. Loughner faces the death penalty if convicted, and is being defended by high-profile attorney Judy Clarke, who previously defended "Unabomber" Ted Kaczynski [FBI backgrounder]. He is currently being held in Phoenix without bail [AP report]. While it has not yet been determined where the trial will be held, proceedings are expected to continue January 24 in Phoenix.

Arizona Governor Jan Brewer signed [press release, PDF; JURIST report] emergency legislation [SB1101 materials; text] on Tuesday making it a crime to picket or protest a funeral after Reverend Fred Phelps's Westboro Baptist Church [official website; WARNING: readers may find material at this church website offensive] announced plans to picket the funeral of Christina Green, a 9-year-old girl killed Saturday in the shooting. On Monday, federal prosecutors charged Loughner [criminal complaint, PDF; JURIST report] with murder and attempted murder for his role in Saturday's attack. President Barack Obama has directed that the investigation into the shooting be conducted [press release] by the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) [official website] and coordinated by Director Robert Mueller [official profile]. Authorities arrested Loughner on Saturday and are searching for a possible accomplice [press release]. Due to the polarized political candidate, many suspect that the attack was politically motivated [ABC report]. Giffords has received harsh criticism in Arizona for her vote for the health care reform law [HR 3590; JURIST news archive] and was among those members of Congress who reported threats or vandalism in 2010. Giffords also was an outspoken critic of Arizona's controversial immigration law [SB 1070 text; JURIST news archive]. Ultimately, a clear motive into the shootings has yet to be identified.

 

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