The man accused of gunning down US congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords and killing six people is mentally incompetent to stand trial, a judge has ruled, after he was dragged out of the courtroom because of an angry outburst.
As survivors of the deadly January attack looked on, Jared Lee Loughner lowered his head, raised it and said what sounded like: "Thank you for the freak show. She died in front of me."
The decision by US District Judge Larry Burns means the 21-year-old will be sent to a federal facility for up to four months in a bid to restore his competency.
The ruling came after Loughner spent five weeks in March and April at a federal facility in Missouri, where he was examined by two court-appointed mental health professionals. The two were asked to determine whether Loughner understands the consequences of the case against him.
The competency reports by psychologist Christina Pietz and psychiatrist Matthew Carroll have not been publicly released.
Loughner has pleaded not guilty to 49 federal charges stemming from the January 8 shooting at a meet-and-greet event in Tucson, Arizona, in which Miss Giffords and 12 others were wounded and six people, including a nine-year-old girl and a federal judge, were killed.
After the outburst, two marshals standing behind Loughner's chair grabbed him by each arm and led him from the courtroom. Loughner's father, sitting a few rows behind his son, lowered his eyes and huddled with two women seated next to him.
After a short recess, the marshals told the judge that Loughner had calmed down. They then brought Loughner back into the courtroom, and the judge told him he had a right to watch the hearing.
Burns asked Loughner if he wanted to stay in the courtroom and behave, or view the proceeding on a TV screen in another room. "I want to watch the TV screen," Loughner responded.
Loughner's lawyers have not said whether they intend to present an insanity defence. But they noted in court filings that his mental condition will likely be a central issue at trial and described him as a "gravely mentally ill man".