How was accused Tucson shooter Jared Lee Loughner returned to competency?

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by Catherine Holland

GMAZ interview by Scott Pasmore and Kaley O'Kelley

Posted on August 7, 2012 at 7:34 AM

Updated Tuesday, Aug 7 at 7:40 AM

PHOENIX -- More than a year and a half after allegedly going on a shooting rampage that left six people dead and 13 others, including former Congresswoman Gabby Giffords, wounded, accused shooter Jared Lee Loughner has been returned to competency  and is expected to please guilty to at least some of the charges against him.

In terms of the law, a competent person can understand a situation and his or her role in it, and is not only able to make reasonable decisions, but can also understand the ramifications of those decisions.

Scottsdale psychologist Dr. Michael Yasinski explained how medication played a role in Loughner's mental state and competence.

"Drugs can help in this case because he was diagnosed with schizophrenia, for example," Yasinski told 3TV's Scott Pasmore and Kaley O'Kelley. "There's a problem in the brain with certain chemicals with schizophrenia. It makes you have disorganized thinking, psychotic symptoms, hallucinations, et cetera."

In addition to impairing one's ability to think clearly, schizophrenia, which can develop over a period of time, makes it extremely difficult for one to know the difference between what is real and what's not. It also prevents normal emotional responses and can spark social dysfunction.

"The drugs act ... the parts of the brain to fix that chemical imbalance and essentially get rid of those symptoms, clearing up the mind," Yasinski explained.

Loughner, 23, did not want to take those drugs. His lawyers fought against forced medication but lost at every turn.

Doctors working with Loughner say the medications have helped.

Yasinski said depending on where the patient is at the outset, medications can have a remarkable effect.

"You essentially can be a different person for a good way," he said. "You mind is much more clear. Your decision-making is much more clear and rational. All the symptoms that are bothersome tend to go away. ... The drugs tend to fix the underlying problem rather than simply sedate them."

According to Yasinski, the decision to take medication will be Loughner's in the long term.

"The way they're able to force it is getting him to be competent again," Yasinski said. "That's how they won that legal battle. But after this, it's really his choice"

Loughner is scheduled to appear in court Tuesday. During that hearing, a court-appointed psychiatrist is expected to testify that Loughner is competent to enter a plea.

If U.S. District Court Judge Larry A. Burns agrees, he will question Loughner about the plea agreement on the table. That agreement calls for Loughner to plead guilty to the crimes he's accused of.

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